CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia star Joe Harris leaned back in his chair, relaxed after a 74-51 rout of Wake Forest on Wednesday night, and began reciting the various screens and cuts that Coach Tony Bennett has installed on offense in recent weeks.
Since an embarrassing loss to Tennessee last Monday, the Cavaliers have gone back to the sets they used two years ago when Harris was just a sophomore and Mike Scott was the face of the program. On the surface, it created “more of a flow,” forward Anthony Gill said, because players now have a better grasp of what to do.
But when one reporter mentioned Virginia’s new offense appears to be based on more freedom, Harris quickly countered back.
“It’s more structure,” he said. “We’re taking a more simple approach offensively. There’s a lot more pattern to the movements and it’s not just freelance.”
The changes have worked wonders through two games of ACC season, and they seemed to befuddle Wake Forest from the opening tip at John Paul Jones Arena. For the first time all year, Virginia resembled the top 25 team it was billed to be before the season began.
The Cavaliers (11-4, 2-0 ACC) shot 50 percent from the floor for the game, hit 50 percent of their three-point shots and scored more points in the first half (41) than they have all season.
On defense, meanwhile, Virginia outrebounded Wake Forest and forced the Demon Deacons to commit 15 turnovers. The Cavaliers turned those miscues into 23 points.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon led the charge with 14 points and six rebounds and Harris, who returned to the starting lineup after suffering a concussion in Saturday’s 62-50 win at Florida State, chipped in 11 points. Sophomore Justin Anderson (11 points) and Gill (10 points) also scored in double figures on a night when the Cavaliers never trailed.
“We’re starting to realize what we need to do in order for us to win. We kind of found our identity,” Harris said. “We got away a little bit from what Virginia basketball has been about the last couple years and maybe we thought we have more talent than we actually had.”
The game began with the good news that Harris had passed a concussion test administered by a team doctor before tip-off.
Harris said he did not practice on Sunday or Monday, and admitted to not remembering the blow to the head — from teammate Akil Mitchell — that ultimately knocked him out of Saturday’s contest. To play on Wednesday, Harris had to pass several memory exams based off a baseline test performed before the season began.
“It looked like he didn’t miss a beat out there,” Bennett said of Harris, who capped off the first half with a buzzer beating three-pointer. “We played well at Florida State without him, but he’s so important.”
Wake Forest (11-4, 1-1) was coming off an upset over North Carolina to start ACC play, but the Demon Deacons didn’t look like much of a threat Wednesday. They committed five turnovers on their first six possessions of the game, and Virginia jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead. The Cavaliers also had an 18-2 surge early in the second half and their lead ballooned as high as 32 points at one juncture.
Bennett, though, was more pleased that Virginia showed its best ball movement of the season and “got the right kind of shots.” He can only hope it’s a sign of what’s to come for this new offense.
“We hit a wall at Tennessee,” point guard London Perrantes said. “I think we got through that wall and we’re progressing and we’re playing better and better every game.”