Justin Anderson’s basketball reputation definitely preceded his arrival in Charlottesville.
Once destined for Maryland until Gary Williams retired as coach, Anderson redirected his explosive, athletic game to Virginia. In the Cavaliers’ first 10 games, the 6-foot-6 freshman guard has shown flashes. So, in the midst of Saturday’s freewheeling game against defenseless Mississippi Valley State, Anderson must have thought to himself, ‘Why not?’
With the Cavaliers putting on a dunking exhibition and absolutely killing the winless Delta Devils inside (UVa outscored them 48-14 in the paint), Anderson didn’t waste an opportunity to bust a move in Virginia’s 67-39 win.
Racing down the floor on a fast break, Anderson faked a behind-the-back pass and sailed down the lane for a dunk that brought Wahoo fans to their feet. They haven’t seen that kind of stuff around these parts in some time.
Enjoy the moment. Anderson did.
“The funny thing is that before our practices, while everybody is shooting around, they’re all like, ‘Okay, here’s Justin,’ and they do the [fake behind-the-back move] and lay it up and talk about how goofy I look,” Anderson said, smiling at the thoughts of his teammates bad imitations. “But today they were all proud of me.”
It’s Anderson’s way of driving the lane and attempting to get his defender off balance, then proceeding to the hoop. It’s part of his athletic ability, part of who he is, his game, instinct. Tony Bennett’s all for it as long as it works.
“If it’s the right play … if you’re going to make that move, make it work,” the coach said after watching the Cavaliers improve to 8-2 with a seven-game winning streak heading into an exam break and no more games until the 19th.
On the day, Anderson had lots of fun, scoring a career-high 15 points, grabbing a career-high nine rebounds (6-for-11 shooting), two assists, two blocks, two steals and generally creating havoc in 27 minutes.
The fun came at the expense of Mississippi Valley, clearly a Rent-A-Victim that clearly was outmatched. Even coach Chico Potts couldn’t believe how poorly his team (0-5, all road games) performed. He was so upset with his team that he didn’t come out of the locker room until 45 minutes after the game.
“My main deal was we shot the ball 19 percent. As much as we shoot, for us to shoot 19 percent, that’s unheard of,” Potts said. “We ain’t never shot no 19 percent from the field.”
No one ever has in the recorded history of Virginia basketball. The Delta Devils had the touch of a man with a red-tipped cane (11-for-58), the lowest ever by a Cavalier opponent, breaking UNLV’s 22.4 percent in 1994. Potts’ team’s 11 field goals were the fewest against UVa since Dec. 1, 1982 by James Madison (11-of-41).
As bad as Mississippi Valley’s offense was, its defense was even worse.
“Mississippi Valley’s defense wasn’t at its best, so there were opportunities,” Bennett said graciously.
Cavalier sophomore Darion Atkins (career-high 14 points) wasn’t as diplomatic.
“It was definitely not the toughest defensive team we’ve faced, not at all,” Atkins said. “It was really easy to score. It really was. I’m not going to try to fluff it or anything. Even [freshman center] Mike Tobey kept saying, ‘Give me the damn ball in the post, these guys can’t check us.’”
Bennett recognized the visitors were, shall we say, struggling with post defense, so he instructed the Cavaliers to play inside and out and they simply followed directions.
Potts said something about his team having trouble with jet lag, which sounded about as valid as Barack Obama’s people blaming his first presidential debate performance on Denver’s altitude.
But back to Anderson.
The flashes were there but what Bennett is seeking from his talented freshman is consistency.
So, after Anderson knocked down a 3-pointer early in the game, it was no mistake that the coaches quickly were in his ear.
“Our coaches called me over and said, they’re great looks but you can get something better with your athleticism,” Anderson said. “I trusted what they told me and it instantly paid off.”
Let’s make no mistake about it, the 3-pointer is not who Anderson (3-for-17 from Bonusphere this season) is. His game is all about his ability to penetrate, elevate, dominate in the lane.
“Sometimes it’s a point of adjusting,” Anderson confessed.
He came into the game averaging about 20 minutes a game, 5.4 points, having posted two double-figures scoring performances. Wahoo fans are waiting for him to emerge as the explosive scorer that they frothed over while watching his high school highlight film.
Anderson is taking it slowly. He’s happy he’s at Virginia; happy he’s contributing and looking to get better.
“I’ve approached this season about continuing to get better and that’s all I really worry about,” he said. “That’s the best feeling to me.”
The freshman was thrilled that in the two practices before Saturday’s game that Bennett took him and the other freshmen along with walk-ons Doug Browman and Thomas Rogers into an extra session. Part of that was because Bennett wanted to get a closer look, part of it was because senior point guard Jontel Evans tweaked his foot injury and missed Saturday’s game.
“I told those guys they’re going to have to give us something,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to hold those guys accountable and work with them because they’re going to be important, certainly for our future, but for this season and stretches this month.”
And that’s okay with Anderson.
“We worked on executing our offense and what to expect,” the rookie said. “Coach said sometimes it’s hard to see everybody and he wanted to look specifically at us and see if we understand [the offense]. Those extra repetitions have helped so much.”
Now, if Bennett can just work in a few extra reps with that fake behind-the-back thing.