Virginia’s Anderson ‘ready to rock and roll’ vs. Belmont
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Virginia’s Justin Anderson said his left pinky finger is feeling better, and expects to be more of a contributor for the second-seeded Cavaliers in the NCAA Tournament.
The physical junior guard failed to score in two ACC Tournament games last week after returning from an eight-game absence due to the broken finger followed by an appendectomy.
Anderson said Thursday he’s pain-free and “ready to rock and roll” beginning Friday against 15th-seeded Belmont.
“It’s really good,” Anderson said while holding out his left hand, which had the left pinky and ring fingers taped together. “I got an week extra for it heal, and it feels really good.”
The Cavaliers (29-3) could certainly use his offensive prowess.
Virginia has lost two of its last three, averaging just 62.6 points per game during that span. Anderson was averaging 13.3 points per game before injuring his finger against Louisville on Feb. 7.
This wrap will be smaller than the one Anderson wore during the ACC Tournament which went all the way up his wrist.
Anderson only played 26 minutes in the conference tournament and was 0 for 6 from the field.
Coach Tony Bennett has shown a keen interest in Anderson’s injury, even having his own fingers taped up by trainers so he knows exactly what his player’s limitations are on the court.
Bennett doesn’t think the tape will affect Anderson’s shooting because players shoot with the middle three fingers, but said it could limit his ability to catch the ball.
“The more he gets used to it and plays with it, the better off he’ll be,” Bennett said.
Anderson understands concerns “outsiders” have over the team’s offensive struggles without him, but insists he’s not putting any added pressure on himself to score.
“Once you starting thinking like that, it takes away from who we are as a team,” Anderson said. “That puts something in your mind that doesn’t allow you to be free and go out and play your game. So you have to block out that outside noise.”
Things to watch in Friday’s East region game between Virginia and Belmont:
VIRGINIA TRANSFER: Just days after hitting a winning 3-point shot with 3.2 seconds left to lift Belmont over Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, Taylor Barnette will get a chance to face his former team. Barnette transferred from the Virginia after his freshman season in 2013. “Those are some of my best friends from my freshman year of college, so it will be interesting,” Barnette said. “It will be fun. I have a lot of respect for those guys and coach Bennett.”
CONTRASTING STYLES: The Cavaliers rely heavily on their defense and a slower, methodical tempo on offense. The Bruins, on the other hand, will look to push the tempo. “It’s kind of a contrast in styles for sure,” Barnette said.
FIRST-ROUND STRUGGLE: Virginia avoided becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed last year when they battled back from an early deficit to take down Coastal Carolina. The Cavaliers are eager to avoid such another upset scare. “We can’t come in with the same mentality,” said forward Anthony Gill. “We have to be more focused. We have to be ready. We have to be prepared for the teams that they say aren’t that good.”
ALWAYS THE UNDERDOG: Belmont returns to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year, but is still searching for its first tournament victory. The Bruins are 0-6 overall. In the school’s previous six appearances, Belmont has only come close to pulling off an upset once — falling 71-70 to second-seeded Duke in 2008. Like 2008, Belmont is again a No. 15 seed. “We are the underdog every time we come into the tournament so it’s nothing new for us,” said Bruins junior guard Craig Bradshaw.
30-SECOND SHOT CLOCK: The Cavaliers have the NCAA’s No. 1-ranked defense, so it might surprise some that Bennett is among the college coaches in favor of a 30-second shot clock to help bolster scoring. Virginia is limiting opponents to 50.8 points per game, but Bennett said he wants what is good for the game.