By Ken Cross
From the time Virginia opened a 15-1 lead on Vanderbilt in the opener of the preseason NIT in Barclays Center until the final horn of the 68-42 win, the Cavaliers asserted a defensive dominance that they have been known for in the Tony Bennett era – and then some.
“I think it was one of those cases where our guys were ready offensively,” said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett, “We played well and Vanderbilt didn’t play as well. I think our defense had something to do with it. But…was a little off, and that happens, but I thought it was very, very good team effort defensively – we fought to be in position.”
— Virginia Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) November 24, 2017
There were no opportunities for Vanderbilt to even think it could come back in this game and get an opportunity to be in position to win. Virginia led 43-17 at halftime as it held the ‘Dores to six field goals and forced seven turnovers.
What was amazing was the difference in how well the Commodores played in losing a hard-fought game at home against No. 10 USC on Sunday evening where Matthew Fisher-Davis scored a career high 31. This was a situation where Bennett’s defensive system throttled Vandy and never gave the Commodores hope as they finished with only 12 field goals in 52 attempts.
“For the most part, we kept the ball out of the lane and when we did have a breakdown, we blocked some shots, so I think it was just one of those things where everything was clicking,” said Bennett.
Isaiah Wilkins made a presence on the defensive end of the floor with his four blocked shots and numerous deflections. He made lots of plays on the defensive end that don’t show up in the box scores.
“As you can see, Isaiah is one of our team leaders defensively; such a good help defender and keeps guys going and we guarded the ball well, so it led to that.”
Now Virginia matches up this evening with a strong Rhode Island team that it must keep out of transition as well. The matchups on E.C Matthews are Jared terrell will be a key to the win.
“Virginia is not a team you want to get behind on, especially early, because they are hard to come back on,” said Vanderbilt’s Bryce Drew, “We had some looks, but then they did a great job contesting.”