CHARLOTTESVILLE, NOV. 27 -- The Virginia Cavaliers already know they have a good back court and were hoping to use early-season breathers like tonight's 83-58 victory over Columbia in the opening round of the Investors Classic to solve their front court jumble.

The host Cavaliers will meet Rhode Island Saturday for the championship. The Rams routed The Citadel, 113-85, in an earlier game.

Things didn't go exactly as the Cavaliers might have liked. None of Virginia's big men stood out against the undermanned Lions, who feature 6-foot-9 sophomore Guido Casparis and little else inside. Virginia's Bill Batts, after a 15-point performance in last week's exhibition victory over the Canadian national team, took just five shots and scored five points.

But the Cavaliers' four-guard rotation of John Johnson, Richard Morgan, John Crotty and Darrick Simms -- who more often than not played three at a time -- accounted for 47 points and 10 assists. Morgan led the way with 15 points; Crotty, a freshman reserve, had 14 points and five assists.

"It was a fairly standard opening game," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland, "especially when you're replacing a couple of players . . . None of our big men really emerged to play a great game, but I thought we got good all-around effort."

The Cavaliers took a 11-3 lead in the game's first four minutes, and Holland substituted freely for the remainder of the game. The Cavaliers led by 40-26 at halftime.

Johnson fueled the early surge with a pair of jump shots, including a three-pointer. After the Lions trimmed the lead to four on a base line drive by point guard Matt Shannon, the Cavaliers ran off another quick 6-0 spurt, capped by Simms' steal and layup, to take a 17-7 lead.

Virginia's back court, sparked by Crotty's eight points, accounted for 24 of the Cavaliers' 40 first-half points. And Crotty and Morgan held Shannon, who averaged 14.1 points per game last season as a sophomore, to three-for-eight shooting in the half.

The Cavaliers steadily increased that advantage throughout the second half with a workmanlike, if unspectacular, effort. Virginia's guards continued to harass Shannon (14 points on five-of-17 shooting), and Batts and reserve center Brent Bair combined for 17 rebounds.

"It wasn't real pretty," Johnson said, "but we did what we had to do. The big guys hit the boards and the guards put some points up." COLUMBIA Min FG FT R A PF T Holland 21 2-6 1-1 3 2 1 5 Vaske 8 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 Casparis 33 3-7 3-4 5 1 4 9

Halftime: Virginia, 40-26.

Three-point goals -- Columbia 3-8 (Shannon 1-6, Chiles 1-1, Fraim 1-1); Virginia 4-17 (Morgan 2-7, Johnson

A -- 4,950