Before Virginia forward Akil Mitchell hobbled out of Littlejohn Coliseum in a walking boot Saturday afternoon, he managed to flash a smile in the aftermath of Virginia’s offensively challenged 59-44 loss at Clemson.
The Cavaliers don’t play again until Saturday against Florida State, and the break could not have come at a better time.
“It will be the best week off ever,” said Mitchell, one of several Virginia players dealing with pain these days.
Just eight days ago, the Cavaliers appeared to be on an upward trajectory on the heels of an encouraging nine-point victory over North Carolina to begin ACC play. In that game, Mitchell, forward Darion Atkins and point guard Jontel Evans all played through various ailments, but injuries have begun to take a toll on Virginia’s lineup.
Though Mitchell played 31 minutes at Clemson this past weekend, he admitted a sprained ankle he suffered in practice on Jan. 3 is still bothering him. He even tweaked the injury at one point Saturday, returning to the sideline for a moment and slamming his hand against a trainer’s table in frustration.
Mitchell’s concern after the game, however, was an inexperienced roster that appears to have put too much stock into that first conference victory against the Tar Heels instead of focusing more on last week’s road setbacks at Wake Forest and Clemson.
“You’ve got to have a short memory,” he said. “I think we might have held onto it a little long. That might have slowed us down.”
Mitchell’s frontcourt mate is hurting as well, and it’s a big reason why Clemson was able to shoot 76.9 percent from the field on Virginia’s normally stingy defense in the second half Saturday. In particular, forward Devin Booker wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers’ interior.
Atkins (Landon) is dealing with shin splints and didn’t play the final eight minutes Saturday, when he finished with just two points, one rebound and two blocks. Coach Tony Bennett said Monday on the ACC’s weekly coaches teleconference that Atkins had a doctor’s appointment Monday afternoon to re-evaluate the injury.
“When you watch on tape, he’s certainly favoring his leg and he’s not quite the same as he was before,” Bennett said. “When he’s not active … it probably affects our defense more than others.”
Perhaps more important, though, is the effectiveness of Evans going forward. The Hampton native has regressed since a strong second-half showing against North Carolina, committing 12 turnovers in three games after missing nine of Virginia’s first 13 contests this year.
Evans said Saturday his recovery from offseason foot surgery is no longer an issue, but he’s well aware that his play hasn’t been up to snuff lately.
“I’m still not back to the Jontel Evans that you guys are used to seeing,” he said. “I just feel like I have to slow down and let everything sink in and just take my time out there and go at my own pace. I think I’m past the point of my injury. I’m moving a lot better out there without thinking about my foot. Next game, hopefully it will be better.”