ACC All Access: Pace is the thing for Virginia in prep for Memphis; Justin Anderson on Darion Atkins and the bench

When Virginia coach Tony Bennett thinks about games that serve as reminders about the dangers of trying to be the hare as opposed to the tortoise-like style that has gotten his team this far, a few examples come to mind.

North Carolina tried to get U.Va. (29-6) out of its element in January in Charlottesville, and failed, losing 76-61 to U.Va. Maryland was perhaps the lone team to get U.Va. to run for extended stretches, and the Terrapins came away with a 75-69 overtime win in the regular season finale.

Memphis (24-9) will try to make U.Va. play the running game again Sunday night in an NCAA tournament East Region third round matchup in PNC Arena.

“I don’t know if it's ever been for a whole game, but certainly possessions or stretches of games where you’ve felt being impatient or being sped up, trying to shoot quick where it’s cost us,” said Bennett regarding teams attempting to ramp up the pace against U.Va.

“Certainly, you got to remember the good things that have gotten you to the point of playing well, but you’re, I think, foolish if you don’t look at the things that cost you.  You have to remember the things that cost you.  Those are the greatest teachers and, certainly, we talk about those. 

“I think our guys are smart enough to know, ‘Look, I remember when we got sped up.’ Whether it was Carolina or Maryland, or I go to a few of those and say remember those moments that we can’t let happen. I think those are great warnings for how we’ll have to play and the things to be cautious of against Memphis.”

Memphis is 60th in the nation in tempo, according to, and 13th among tournament teams. If East Region No. 1 seed U.Va. is able to play its game, Memphis senior guard Chris Crawford insists his team can still get the win. He said Gonzaga, Oklahoma State and Louisiana State all tried to get No. 8 seed Memphis to creep along, but Memphis managed to get wins in all three games.

“We had a couple games this season where, you know, we showed the country that we can slow the ball down and execute our plays in the offense…but we’re a very versatile team,” Crawford said. “We can get up and down and slow it down and execute and go inside out and play off our bigs. When our inside presence is big for us, we’re very capable, and they stretch out the guards.”

At least one of Memphis’ players contends he knows a thing or two about U.Va.’s desired style and pack-line defensive strategy. Austin Nichols, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward from Collierville, Tenn., was recruited by U.Va. He has started all 33 of Memphis’ games this season, averaging 9.1 points 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 58.9 percent from the floor.

“With them recruiting me, I understood their style of play,” Nichols said. “I got pretty close to the coaches, so I kind of know how they play the game and I met some of the guys, of course, on my visits.”


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As far as U.Va. is concerned, it doesn’t really care what other teams want to do. There’s life in the fast lane, and then there’s life in college basketball’s version of the blue-haired society lane. U.Va. lives in the latter, and nothing can change it as long as it works, which it has all season long.

“Not too many people can get us to play fast-paced,” U.Va. associate head coach Ritchie McKay said. “I don’t mean that arrogantly. We kind of know what we want to do offensively, and defensively, if you take quick shots, you’ve got to make them because we’ll usually rebound it. We’re probably not as concerned about it, especially in the NCAA tournament where the media timeouts are so long. I think it gives you a little bit more rest than you normally would get, but our bench has been money for us all year – Anthony Gill, Darion Atkins, Evan Nolte and even Teven Jones. What’s very understated is how much Teven Jones has helped our practices by buying into the scout team.”

Of course, Atkins talked Saturday about his desire to get more playing time, and how he’s remained quiet all season about it because the team has played so well.

Guard Justin Anderson, who will be one of U.Va.’s key defenders off the bench in the Cavaliers’ attempts to keep Memphis guards Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Crawford from getting off to the races, discussed a meeting he, Anthony Gill, Atkins and Jones had after Friday night’s second round win against No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina.

“This team is an amazing team,” said Anderson on Saturday afternoon. “(On Friday night), it was a time where myself, Teven and Darion – all three of us were frustrated. (Anthony Gill) came in. He came into the room and he just told us, ‘We’re going to be fine. You guys are great players.’ He said, ‘Just remember to stay humble to the process.’ We actually took 30 minutes in our room, all just prayed outloud for each other. We knew that God had control over our destiny.

“That’s what’s keeping Darion motivated; his faith in God and his relationship with us as a team. He’s been relying on us to keep him built up, even though things may not go his way. If he just remembers to stay bought into the process, and stay positive, I think he’s going to be an animal. His body, the way he attacks the rim, the way he defends, he’s huge for us. It’s going to click, and when it clicks, he’s going to be special.”

While U.Va.’s bench could play a role in Sunday’s game if Memphis manages to get the Cavaliers sped up, one of the Cavaliers’ primary ambitions is to keep pace from becoming a factor.

U.Va. guard Joe Harris and forward Akil Mitchell both said not giving teams the chance to get out in transition is one of the “non-negotiables” in Bennett’s world. Achieving that end means putting the brakes on opponents before they get started.  

“That’s not the way that we play, so we hope to not get in a situation where we are taking quick shots offensively or letting them get out in transition,” Harris said.

“We pride ourselves on not allowing any baskets in transition and always making a team go against a set defense, and if they feel comfortable playing in the half-court, that’s great.  That's the way that we want to play.  We want to grind it out with teams and not get sped up.  We want to play at our pace and hopefully dictate what we do offensively and how we get back defensively and make them play against a set defense on a consistent basis.”


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