Part of the secret to Tony Bennett’s massive success at Virginia has been his consistent serenity in all kinds of situations. So if any program is equipped to face what Virginia is trying to pull off this week, it’s one coached by Bennett.
The Cavaliers, who are scheduled to play Ohio on Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, are the only team not on the premises in Indianapolis this week while they’re waiting to be released from quarantine due to a COVID-19 case that popped up last week after the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
Virginia is expected to travel Friday, giving the team just enough time to go through the NCAA’s intake protocols before being cleared to play. In the meantime, the Cavaliers will be able to get in maybe one or two live practices, which is certainly not traditional preparation for the biggest game of its season.
“You control what you can control,” Bennett said. “You’ve gotta be real and say it’s not ideal but respond well, handle it well and you’ll use this to mature, to grow and to learn a little more about perseverance.”
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Virginia, seeded fourth in the West Region, has only been able to work on its game plan for Ohio through Zoom sessions. Players, who were put into quarantine due to local contact tracing, have been allowed to do some conditioning on an individual basis.
“There’s a little uncertainty,” Virginia forward Sam Hauser said. “I know we’re going to have one practice, and I think we’ll probably have to fit a lot into that practice. The last couple days we’ve tried to fill it with a lot of film and getting to know our opponent.
“I hope at least our mental side is sharp, but physically is going to be a little different. At the end of the day, we’re going to be grateful to be able to play.”
The NCAA worked with Virginia on a schedule that would allow the 2019 national champions to try to play, though the window is very tight. Virginia will have to be tested upon arrival Friday afternoon, then again after midnight — the NCAA and local health officials are requiring the tests be 12 hours apart — before being cleared into the NCAA’s controlled environment on Saturday morning.
Assuming Virginia clears all those tests, it could get in a practice Saturday morning before the game.
“You just keep working and making the most of it,” Bennett said. “It’s not ideal, but when I told those guys after the Syracuse game we had a positive test and seeing the look on their face … (being able to play) certainly beats the alternative.”
Follow reporter Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken