Bennett's Cavs remain on guard in victory over Yellow Jackets

U-Va. senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan dunks for two of his game-high 23 points against Georgia Tech.
U-Va. senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan dunks for two of his game-high 23 points against Georgia Tech. (Sabrina Schaeffer)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE - With one of Georgia Tech's forwards out because of illness and yet another Virginia post player dealing with a lower extremity injury, Coach Tony Bennett said his decision to start four guards essentially was made for him on Saturday.

The choice proved fruitful on an afternoon when the Cavaliers shot 66.7 percent from three-point range and used the cushion provided by a 14-point halftime lead to coast to a 72-64 win. The victory snapped a three-game ACC losing skid for Virginia (11-8, 2-3), which had struggled of late to close out games after holding second-half leads.

"I think at times, yeah, we have to have a pretty solid dose of that," Bennett said of the four-guard look the Cavaliers utilized nearly the entire game. "And of course, playing four guards offensively helps us spread the floor, and can we handle it on the glass? Defensively, that's the question we've got to keep answering."

The question Bennett had to make before Saturday's game was whether to start senior forward Will Sherrill or freshman guard Joe Harris. There were several factors at play, one of which was Sherrill's continuing recovery from the fractured right fibula he suffered in late November.

Bennett revealed after Saturday's win that junior center Assane Sene had rolled his ankle near the end of Wednesday's 70-67 loss at Boston College and that Sene's playing status against Georgia Tech was not determined until pregame warmups were completed. Sene started and recorded four points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.

The Yellow Jackets (9-9, 2-3), meantime, were without 6-foot-8 starting forward Kammeon Holsey, who missed the game because of stomach flu.

Bennett elected to start Harris for the first time in five games, and Harris responded by tallying 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Harris also helped Virginia jump out to an 11-4 lead. The Cavaliers made four three-pointers before the first media timeout and led by 16 points before the break.

"I've been playing the four a lot lately ever since [senior forward Mike Scott] has been out, and Assane didn't practice the last two days, so obviously my mind-set was to fill the void there for getting rebounds," Harris said. "I knew I was going to have to step it up."

Virginia began the game with three players - senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan, freshman guard K.T. Harrell and Harris - on the floor who were shooting 39 percent or better from three-point range. The trio combined to make 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) from beyond the arc Saturday against a Georgia Tech squad that was ranked No. 11 in the ACC in three-point field goal percentage defense.

The Cavaliers made 7 of 8 three-pointers in the first half and 10 of 15 overall. The play turned sloppy near the end of the game, rendering the final score an inaccurate reflection of how thoroughly Virginia controlled the proceedings.

"You can put teams in a gym by themselves that wide open and they are not going to make seven out of eight" three-pointers, Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "It just shows you that you have to be prepared to stop people, as opposed to hoping that they miss."

Farrakhan finished with a game-high 23 points, while Harrell registered 17.

Virginia plays at a faster tempo in its four-guard look, and on Saturday that proved effective in pressuring Georgia Tech - another team with a relatively small lineup - into numerous defensive breakdowns.

Bennett has had to be creative in matching up his team against opponents for the past month after losing Scott to what turned out to be a season-ending ankle injury. With a host of guards and a short supply of healthy post players, Bennett's ingenuity of late has consisted of utilizing variations of guards on the floor with either Sene or freshman forward Akil Mitchell inside.

"I think we can do a lot [in a four-guard lineup] because we have guards who are very versatile," Harrell said. "We have guys who can play the three or the four, so it's easy for us to play four guards. We like to get it out in transition and find easy looks."

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