- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

Forward Anthony Gill and his Virginia teammates have every reason to feel good about the way their season is going. They also have a coach with a short-term memory that won’t allow the early season success to go to their heads.

The Cavaliers (15-5, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are off to their best start in league play since Ralph Sampson was a senior 31 years ago. But four weeks ago, they had just lost for the third time in five games, and absorbed a 35-point blowout loss at Tennessee.

“He talks to us about that every day,” Gill said of coach Tony Bennett, whose team was ranked in the preseason for the first time since the 2001-02 season. “He tells us to not be put on a pedestal. We were at the beginning of the season, and we got knocked off of that really hard, and then again with that loss against Tennessee. We’re just trying to stay focused to be able to go forward and win some big games.”

The Cavaliers just finished sweeping a three-game homestand, and have major road tests this week against Notre Dame in South Bend., Ind., on Tuesday night and at No. 18 Pitt on Sunday.

Last week, while preparing to face struggling rival Virginia Tech, Bennett dipped into literature for inspiration.

“I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson to them, that ‘The hero is not fed on sweets,’” he said. “They’ve been on the pedestal and they’ve seen the other side. They got knocked down after they thought how good they’d be at the start of the year with all the projections. We weren’t tough enough, sound enough, or playing the kind of ball that gives us a chance. I said you have a tremendous opportunity and you worked hard to get to this spot. Just keep playing your ball and don’t give it back.”

Led by seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, and with contributions from a roster that allows Bennett to go 10 deep in his rotation, the Cavaliers reference the Tennessee loss on a regular basis.

“We know what it’s like to be up at the top and then to lose that feeling,” Mitchell said. “So we understand what we have to do to win and be successful and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

In his fifth season at Virginia, Bennett said this squad has mastered his offensive and defensive systems better than any of his previous Cavalier teams.

“I think we realized after the Tennessee game how we need to play together and what we’re doing and I think that’s what has given us a chance to be competitive and successful,” he said. “I think they’ve grasped that. Every game, just because you do it, doesn’t guarantee (a win). But they have the right formula for how we need to play to give us the best chance.”

It’s a formula that has been working.


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