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January 30, 2012

Tony Bennett

THE MODERATOR:  We have with us now Virginia head basketball coach Tony Bennett.  Coach, if you could, a few comments about your team, then we'll open it for questions.
COACH BENNETT:  Coming off of a hard‑fought game against NC State where we were fortunate to come away with a victory.  Certainly it showed us some areas we need to improve on to continue to be successful.
They really took it to us on the offensive glass.  Hall had 18 rebounds, nine offensive rebounds.  They hurt us on the interior.  We have to go to work on those areas.
Again, just getting ready for another team in Clemson that plays hard.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll open it up for questions.

Q.  Tony, on the Colonial Athletic call this morning, Shaka Smart said the best teams in the state of Virginia are in the CAA, not the ACC.  I'm wondering what your assessment is on that.
COACH BENNETT:  Shaka is a very good coach.  I certainly respect him.  That's one man's opinion.  I think it's a very good league.  I certainly respect it.  We played George Mason, we played Drexel, who are two very good teams.
Like I said, that old adage:  What's the toughest league in America?  The one you're in.
That's always the case.  Having coached in the Big Ten, the PAC‑10 at that time, and also here, also playing in a mid‑major league where I was at Wisconsin, Green Bay, there's great basketball all over the country.
Night in and night out when you're going against the teams, I can comment on the ACC, it's a battle.  The physicality, the size, the talent level, there's essentially great challenges you face top to bottom in the ACC.  That doesn't take away anything from any league, the CAA.
I know one of the toughest leagues is the one you're playing in.  I certainly respect Shaka and he's entitled to his opinion.

Q.  When you got to Virginia, was it on your mind that that you wanted to be the flagship team of the state or is that not important to you?
COACH BENNETT:  Certainly that would be great.  It means you would be a good team because there are very good teams in this state.
When you take over a program, your initial thoughts are, Let's get it going in the right direction.  Let's establish what we need to establish so there's forward momentum.  Sometimes it's stopping, plugging some gaps, stopping some of the things, rebuilding, getting some things set before you can take on the visions of grandeur.
You certainly dream, you have a vision and goal for special things down the road, but you have to live in the present and live in reality.  That's something that you're best just to go to work at the task at hand, try to improve in the daily areas.
We always said, Let's first become competitive and build it from there, certainly have those visions of getting better and better.  That's where we started with the long‑range goal of being excellent as we can be.  If that entails being by far the best team in the state, the flagship, great.  But I think it's more about a quality or standard of excellence that you're trying to attain.

Q.  Tony, how are you health‑wise?  I Akil had some foot issues?  I thought Jontel said something bothered him a little in the NC State game.  How are they doing?  Anybody else with issues?
COACH BENNETT:  We had a practice yesterday, a shorter practice.  But I think you're at that stage of the season when guys are going to feel some bumps and bruises, some inflammation and certain things.  Assane gets his cast off.  That will be interesting to see how that goes.  They'll get a picture of it.  Besides Assane, besides some bumps and bruises as I mentioned, we're okay.
I think you're getting to that point where there's a lot of games in a short amount of time where hopefully we'll stay healthy but nothing major.

Q.  It's 17‑3, you're a team that's going to be in consideration for an NCAA bid.  None of these guys have been to the tournament.  When, if at all, do you start addressing that with your guys?
COACH BENNETT:  Well, we talk about that as we start each season, what our goals are.  Every time you can have success in a game, you move a step closer to it.
To me it's the idea of it's okay to have that in your thought process and maybe even think about it a little bit.  But the action, as we said, comes in the daily grind of trying to get better in practice and perform.  We talk about the moment by moment, the process.  I guess that's where the focus and the action takes place.
It's maybe okay to talk about, Hey, if we can do well, we'd have a chance at that.  It was talked about at the beginning of the year.  I think our guys are smart enough, as we are, there's so many games left, so much can happen, every time we can have success, we can move closer to every team's goal of post‑season play, playing the best basketball you can, without strangling it to death, obsessing about it.  It does take care of itself.  It's based on the quality of what you play, coming out on top of enough games.

Q.  You mentioned how well Clemson defends.  Last year a 49‑47 game.  Some personnel changes, of course.  Would you expect a similar style game tomorrow night?
COACH BENNETT:  Brad, they defend.  He does a real good job.  We try to defend, too.  It's a hard‑fought game.  Possessions are hard to come by.
Each game is sometimes different.  I think we have some constants that we rely on, so that those are going to be there in terms of working on that defensive end.  Sometimes games present different opportunities.  To say it's going to be a carbon copy of last year, it's hard to predict that.  I know each of us want to make the other work for real quality possessions or quality shots.  In watching them, I see those same things.

Q.  On Mike Scott, Steve Donahue was remarking earlier as a defense you want to try to force big guys such as Mike to shoot the 17‑ and 18‑footers.  Have you ever had a big guy who has developed that 17‑ or 18‑foot game?
COACH BENNETT:  I've had some guys that I've coached that have been real good shooters, kind of those four men that can stretch.
I think where Mike's strength is is his versatility.  He can catch it on the block, turn and face.  He can catch it in the lane and face.  That's developed.  Even when I got here, he had a decent touch.  But he's worked real hard at that.
I think the year where he missed with the injury, sometimes when you're limited to having to be in a boot for a long time, there's not a whole lot you can do but sit there and work on a form shot, one‑footed shots, sitting in a chair shooting.
Because he's not a 7‑footer, you know, you've got to be able to turn and face to sometimes get your shot off.  You can't just overpower people, go over the top.  He has developed that.  He has a little fall‑away jumper that's unique.  With his versatility, he's unique from that standpoint, but I have coached some other guys that can really shoot it.

Q.  Coach, I'm wondering in terms of the rebounding margins that we saw in Raleigh, what kind of things have you talked about in the last few days?  What kind of changes can you made?
COACH BENNETT:  I think you certainly have to be as good as you can going to get the ball, blocking out, having a nose for it.  Howell, he looked like a man amongst boys really most of the game.  Again, the ability for us to rebound as a group.  There's a point where you have to do that, but then you have to go and pursue the ball and come up with it.  That's where we were certainly.  He out‑worked us.  He got to the balls.  We are just half a step behind, not ready.
Certainly we're not as big without Assane in there to take up some of that size or cover up.  That's where we've got to be more efficient or more effective with everybody rebounding, everybody doing it the right way.  That's something that you just have to emphasize and keep trying to get better at it.
THE MODERATOR:  Coach, thanks for taking time to be with us.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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