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March 7, 2011

Tony Bennett

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Virginia head basketball coach Tony Bennett. With that, we'll bring on coach, ask for a brief opening statement and ask for questions.
COACH BENNETT: Just looking forward to playing in the ACC Tournament. My experience last year is it's such a first-class event, and just the way it's run and the following with the fans and the excitement that goes with it is good. It will be a first time for quite a few of our guys and just looking forward to the experience and preparing to play Miami who got us when we played them at their place earlier this year.

Q. Was there a time or times this season when you thought Will Sherrill might not play again? And what do you make of the minutes he's logged the last two games?
COACH BENNETT: Well, when it first happened at Minnesota, I don't know if it was Colton Iverson or Samson, one of their 260-plus pound guys fell on it. I thought he maybe blew out his knee, and I thought uh-oh.
Once we knew it was the fracture of the non-weight bearing bone, I knew he would be able to play again, but I didn't know to what capacity. That was the frustrating part for him and for us, okay, how much can you endure? How much can you move?
But as I saw him progressing, and he's a smart player. He's not very athletic, so that any little bit of athleticism that he has, when that gets taken away, it really becomes an issue.
But he has the mind for the game, and his game isn't really predicated on his great athleticism. It's on his positioning and his know how. So I thought okay he can contribute. And as he started to progress, I was hopeful. It was really in the Miami game that he started to move his best. He refractured it or reinjured it. I wasn't sure. But, again, he's progressed.
And now the fact that he played 37 minutes and played a little bit the game or two before, that's good. He sort of toughened it out, and I think he's past the point now where he's moving better. It's like he got over the hump and now he's back to moving well and very important for us as he has been the last two games because he changes our lineup.

Q. You said the other day that you were playing five on seven in practice. Last we saw you had about nine or ten available players. Who were some of those guys?
COACH BENNETT: I was really quick in practice. You would have been impressed. We used Coach Sanchez and Coach Williford jumped in there. Sometimes we'll use a manager. We've got a couple of managers that were former high school players, just to put guys in spots where the court's crowded.
So we use all hands on deck. We used everybody we can. We'll see. But I stayed out of it though.

Q. Last year you all went in with a nine-game losing streak and played really well on Thursday, then actually played a really good game against Duke on Friday. What turned it around and how did that work? Is there any carryover into this year from the experience of the guys that went through that last year?
COACH BENNETT: I'm not sure. Hopefully that experience always helps you. But we had played a good game. It was the last game against Maryland. We had a lot of transition and change last year and really struggled down the stretch.
But I think our guys in that last game at home before we headed into it said, okay, we've got to figure out how we have a chance to be in games because we have not been in too many games up to that point.
It became clear to them that we've got to be great. As good as we can defensively, collectively we've got to be offensively a sound team. Just the things that we're trying to do now that when you don't have the superior talent that you have to do to rely on to be in those games. Really just having an unselfishness on both ends of the floor, and step up and make some plays.
So I thought that took place in our last game then in the first game of the conference tournament last year and then against Duke. When we've played well down the stretch this year, we've been solid on both ends and had a unified approach.

Q. You're going in with two wins and four of your last five. Do you feel better prepared to make a run in the tournament this year?
COACH BENNETT: I mean, the beautiful thing about tournament play is if you can win one in the conference or in the tournament, you feel good. All right. There is a chance, momentum. But to get ahead of yourself and say we can run the table or get it, I think that's not wise.
You take care of business or take care of what's in front of you, get as ready as you can. If you're fortunate enough to advance, that's where you gain your confidence and your momentum. And certainly, yeah, if you've played well in the past the last few games, you've got to carry that and keep trying to do the things that have made you successful.
But in tournament play, it comes down to the things that most coaches emphasize all year long. Can you get to those and be really solid in them because they're usually rewarded in tournament play.

Q. Tony, you mentioned the other day that Jontel hasn't been seeing a lot of minutes. Can you pinpoint why that is?
COACH BENNETT: Jontel is playing heavier minutes. He's still a huge part of the last couple of games. It's just that Sammy played so well in the last game, and I think Jontel played I think 14 or 15 minutes, whatever it was. Just that can be -- that, as an individual, that can sometimes get discouraging, where he's probably playing I don't know what it was, 25 plus. Then the last couple games he hasn't played as much.
You never know when you're going to be playing a lot. Certain situations arise, match-ups, all those things are so important. He's a very important part of our success was his ability to get to the lane, certainly to set our defense.
I think he's handled it well and will continue. But that doesn't mean he can suddenly play 30 minutes, can play 15. But I think Sammy's played a little more. When Will's come back in, we've gone with a few different match-ups and lineups that have been successful.

Q. You mentioned perhaps drawing some confidence from as well as you've played down the stretch. But the loss down in Coral Gables notwithstanding, you all did play well in the stretches there until the hiccups at the free-throw line at the end. What do you draw from that game?
COACH BENNETT: Well, again, you have to look at where, again, the things where they hurt us. You have to start with that. Where did they hurt us and address those.
You know, we certainly had a chance in that game. We fouled a couple three pointers. Fouls were called in the last 55 seconds, 45 seconds twice, put them on the line for six free throws. And again, we missed our free throws and they made theirs and didn't execute.
But they have an inside-outside attack, and you better be able to handle their big kid inside. They have very big guards. They're a team that can really get going. You know, they played some man, they played some zone against us, and you have to be ready for a lot of things against Miami.
And they have some talent and coach is doing a good job with they will. I know they're coming off a disappointing loss. But they're a team that can score in spurts and has some completeness that makes you aware of them. You can never rest because they get it going with their threes or their drives and dumping it inside. Those are hard teams to drive.

Q. Given the post presence that Miami has, how helpful would it be for you to get a similar performance out of what you saw on Saturday?
COACH BENNETT: Yeah, any time we can get other guys scoring in double figures or being a factor or playing into their strength, that really helps us try to be as solid as we can on that defensive end, whether it's other guys hitting shots or Assane was on the glass or getting put back points, those are just bonuses for us. So that will be important. I hope Assane will continue on with how he played on Saturday.

Q. I know Sammy has played the point and the off guard throughout his career with you. When he is at the point, what does that allow you to do on offense?
COACH BENNETT: What does it allow us to do offensively at the point or was there something else?

Q. Yeah, that's it?
COACH BENNETT: At times when Will was on the floor and Sammy, and the way we've been starting the last couple of games because of senior night and just carried it on, there's three or four threats that can stretch it from the perimeter. Just a little more of a scoring threat.
Jontel gives us a different strength. The defense and the ability to get to the rim and the lane. And Sammy is a little more obviously his ability to stretch the defense with his shot, and still can put it on the floor and have some completeness. Then it pulls with Will starting, it pulls Joe back to more of a natural perimeter spot. It just gives us a little more offense, even from a rebounding standpoint.
But specifically about Sammy I think is what you're asking. It gives us more of a threat from the perimeter which maybe opens up some driving opportunities and just lets us play at times more to our strength.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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