Here are my takeaways from Virginia’s 65-51 win over Boston College on Saturday -- the Cavaliers' third-straight win.
-- It’s funny how expectations can change so quickly in this league after just a few solid wins. Virginia was 1-2 after two terrible road losses at Wake Forest and Clemson and fans were wondering if the NIT would even be in reach. Now, the Wahoos have strung together wins over Florida State, Virginia Tech and BC and fans are talking Big Dance again. Virginia (14-5, 4-2) currently sits in a third-place tie with Duke in the ACC, just a game back in the win column of NC State (5-2), whom they host on Tuesday night. The crazy thing is that nobody would have been shocked before the start of league if you said the Wahoos would be 4-2 after six games. What would have been surprising was if you had been told that two of the wins came against North Carolina and Florida State and the losses were to Wake and Clemson.
-- Freshman Justin Anderson was one of the huge bright spots in the win. Anderson, according to coach Tony Bennett, “grew up” against BC. Anderson, who has a team-leading 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio, had been doing so many of the little things all season. Now, it looks like he’s figured out how to get his points in the offense. I thought one of his most impressive baskets came in the first half when he bailed Virginia out near the end of the shot clock. Anderson caught the ball out near the 3-point line, drove hard to the elbow and elevated for a pull-up jumper (which he knocked down). Man, if he can start consistently making that, look out. Anderson, who had a career-high 16 points, gets so high on his jumpers -- that shot could become an unstoppable weapon. With his style of play, Anderson has quickly become a huge fan favorite. It’s been a long time since the program has had a player with his raw athleticism. “He’s a freak of nature,” said Jontel Evans after the game. Later in the evening, I was out covering the UVa men’s tennis match at Boar’s Head and everyone, including senior Jarmere Jenkins, was talking about Anderson. The kid’s got this town excited.
-- Virginia’s second-half shooting was off the charts. The Wahoos shot 77 percent from the field -- the highest they’ve shot in a half since 1984! For the game, the Hoos shot 56 percent, which was their third-best shooting performance of the season. They shot 59 percent against North Texas and 64 percent against Wofford. What was impressive was that they weren’t as reliant on the 3-pointer as they had been in previous games. UVa got inside buckets from Anderson, Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey and only took nine 3s all game (converting two).
-- Bennett said Paul Jesperson had an “understated game” and I tend to agree. You could definitely see the increased aggressiveness in the sophomore guard. On Virginia’s very first possession of the game, he took two straight 3-pointers. Neither went in, but I think it set the tone for his assertiveness. Jesperson had a career-high seven rebounds, a career-high three steals and six points. Interesting stat: Jesperson played a team-high 37 minutes.
-- Virginia’s defense on BC leading scorer Ryan Anderson was outstanding. Anderson finished two points and five rebounds below his season averages. Several times, UVa was able to bother Anderson with help defense. Joe Harris, who was quiet offensively, tied a career-high with three blocks. If it wasn’t for what appeared to be a terrible basket interference call, he should have had four.
“The Not So Nice”
-- In the first half, Virginia had trouble with BC’s “shufffle cut” offense. The Wahoos gave up countless open looks to BC shooters. Luckily, the Eagles were only 9 of 25 from the field and UVa was only down by two points at the half.
-- Darion Atkins sat out his third straight game with a shin injury, but with NC State coming up, I think it was definitely the wise move if he was still not close to 100 percent. Virginia is going to need Atkins’ size and physicality more against the Wolfpack than it would have required against the young and undersized Eagles, who often used a four-guard lineup.
-- For the first time this season, redshirt freshman Teven Jones was a DNP-coach’s decision. Bennett went with former walk-on Doug Browman over Jones (which he had also done against Virginia Tech). After the game, I asked Bennett about this decision and he simply said that he liked Browman’s experience and his ability to chase players around screens. Virginia fans are convinced that Jones has done something to get himself in Bennett’s doghouse. I’m not sure what to think. It is certainly a curious development. Virginia had been so successful with Jones as the starting point guard. Now Jones can’t even get in the game as a backup? Jones seemed to indicate on Twitter that he’s frustrated with the situation, but is happy that Virginia has been winning.