Bennett, Cavaliers Prepare for Sweet 16


Tony Bennett was asked Tuesday if he's at all surprised by the historic success his Virginia basketball team has had this season.

"I never say, "Is this possible?" I knew it was possible," Bennett answered "But I wouldn't have probably put my house on it, or my kids, or anything. I would have said, "Hopefully we'll be good and we'll develop."

Bennett's Cavaliers have already won ACC regular season and tournament titles this month, while last weekend's 78-60 NCAA Tournament win against Memphis matched the school record with 30 wins in a season -- and clinched the program's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1995.

"But that's why you don't put emphasis on the end results," Bennett said. "You have your goals, you have your dreams. But you say, "Let's be process-oriented. Let's pursue quality in each possession and each game, and take it that way." And then these things can happen."

Reaching the Sweet 16 isn't a new experience for Bennett as a coach. He was on the staff at Wisconsin when the Badgers reached the Final Four in 2000, and the Sweet 16 in 2003, and in 2008 Bennett was the head coach at Washington State for the Cougars' Sweet 16 run.

Now he's drawing from those experiences as the Cavaliers get ready to leave for Madison Square Garden.

"You have to use that experience," he said. "You use that experience when you're building a program; when you go through tough losses. So have fortunately coached a team that's been to the Sweet 16, and has been in the NCAA Tournament before."

"But so much of it is who you're playing, the team you have, and you trust those instincts," Bennett added. "Because not every situation is identical. You draw some things, but you say, "All right. This is this team. This is who we're playing." And trust your gut."

Bennett called Michigan State "in my opinion, the best team we've played all year" on Tuesday, and pointed out that the Spartans began the season ranked No. 2 in the country in both major polls. Like UVa, the Spartans lost their regular season finale, but have won five straight in the postseason.

"Michigan State is playing their best basketball," Bennett said. "They suffered a lot of injuries, and now they're full strength, and they really breezed through the Big Ten conference championship."

The Cavaliers will prepare for the Spartans in Charlottesville before flying to New York on Wednesday afternoon. And Bennett says at this point in the season, his team's practices are shorter -- but the intensity stays the same.

"If you promote, in my opinion, a soft, "We're just kind of getting ready for the game" (approach), it won't work," he explained. "You have to be brief. But you have to figure out what's important in this game, attack it with a level of intensity, and prepare to play."

"You're never done improving, and I think our guys have to keep finding ways to get a little better for this."

Bennett also said keeping his players hungry shouldn't be a problem either.

"You don't know how often you're going to come down this road. And it's worth the struggle," he said. "It's worth the hunger that you need. It's worth laying it on the line in practice, like you didn't think you could. Leading up to each progressive round, each progressive game. And when that brass ring is coming around, we talked about it, try to grab it with both hands. And that's what's happening."


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