No. 16 Virginia turned over its roster after winning its first national championship last season, losing three starters to the NBA draft in June.
But that’s not the turnover that coach Tony Bennett is worried about as the Cavaliers (9-2) close out their nonconference schedule at home Sunday against Navy (6-4) in Charlottesville, Va.
Virginia has turned the ball over 140 times already this season, including a season-high 19 in a 70-59 home loss to South Carolina on Dec. 22. The Cavaliers’ average of 12.7 turnovers per game is significantly higher than last year’s 9.0 mark, and it has been a group effort with five players having 13 or more miscues.
“Turnovers are really costing us,” Bennett said. “In the past, we’ve been so good (in that area), and we know our margin for error this year is smaller than most years, and we know the things that we talk about: Before we can be successful, we gotta be so good in eliminating those errors that are going to get us beat, and that (means) taking care of the ball and (preventing) transition defense and second shots.
“If you don’t do those at a high level, it’s very difficult to win.”
The Gamecocks scored 23 points off turnovers and added 16 fastbreak points and 11 second-chance points while snapping Virginia’s 22-game nonconference winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena.
Sophomore point guard Kihei Clark turned it over seven times against South Carolina and has 13 giveaways in his past two games, offsetting his 13 assists in that same span.
“He needs to clean those up for us to be as good as we can,” Bennett said of Clark. “And I’m asking an awful lot of him, because he has to do a lot defensively and offensively, but I’m going to hold him in high account. I hold all my point guards to that.”
The Cavaliers will try to right the ship against a Navy team that has played only one game in the past three weeks, a 59-48 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 20.
Expect a low-scoring affair, as the Midshipmen are allowing 57.7 points per game and Virginia has yet to score more than 65 points this season. The Cavaliers have held eight opponents under 50 points and lead the nation in field-goal-percentage defense at 34.2 percent.
“As long as we keep defending and rebound, we are going to be in games,” Navy coach Ed DeChellis said after the win against the Mountaineers. “Now if we make some shots and do a little better offensively, then we will look a little better.”
Senior forward Mamadi Diakite leads Virginia with an average of 13.9 points per game. Junior guard Cam Davis (14.3) and sophomore guard John Carter Jr. (14.0) are the leading scorers for Navy, with sophomore guard Greg Summers adding 9.7 points per game.
The Cavaliers have swept the last seven meetings against the Midshipmen, but the programs haven’t faced each other since 2013.
–Field Level Media