UVA vs Colorado State features two of nation’s best PGs head-to-head

By Jerry Ratcliffe

One of the big keys for Virginia in its “First Four” battle against Colorado State tonight in Dayton will be containing Rams point guard Isaiah Stevens (9:10 p.m., tru TV).

UVA’s Tony Bennett believes fans will see two of the nation’s top point guards go one-on-one when Stevens faces the Cavaliers’ Reece Beekman, the ACC two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

“I think Isaiah is special from what I’m seeing, and I know Reece is,” Bennett said of the matchup.

Stevens is a 6-foot guard, Colorado State’s all-time assists man (fourth in the nation at 6.7 per game) and can score, averaging 17.9 points per outing. Beekman led the ACC in assists with 6.3 per game and averages 14.3 points, but is a defensive stopper.

Bennett is well aware of what the Rams, a 2.5-point favorite over UVA tonight, are capable of doing.

“[Stevens] is one of the best passers I’ve seen, him and Reece, two special point guards,” Bennett said. “His composure, the way they use him, whether it’s ball screens or double handoffs and little actions, and then they’re cutting the other guys and their physicality, their spacing, their cutting, they score in different ways. It’s impressive.”

Watching film on the Rams, Bennett realizes how Colorado State is so well-regarded in basketball circles.

“You can see why they’ve been so successful for the past couple of years in a very difficult league,” Bennett said. “It puts a premium on your ability to get back, and you can’t stop everything but you have make them earn and you better be continuous and have great vision, but you’ve got to be able go guard your guy and get them off the glass, all those kinds of things.”

Colorado State’s lineup consists chiefly of experienced players. The starters are four redshirt seniors and a senior, along with a redshirt senior and junior guard off the bench.

The Rams, 24-10 on the season, aren’t a big team as they feature a 6-8 forward, a 6-7 forward and five guards in those top seven. The guards are 6-6, 6-4, 6-0 as starters and a pair of 6-4 guards off the bench.

CSU works for the 2-point field goal, shooting 57.6 percent, which ranks ninth in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Rams will be facing Virginia (23-10) for the first time in program history. Scouting the Cavaliers on film isn’t quite as challenging as facing them live.

CSU assistant coach Brian Cooley was assigned to come up with the defensive gameplan against Virginia, and he noted that he stayed up until 2 a.m., took a three-hour nap, then woke up and reviewed for UVA film at 5 a.m.

“It was somewhat stressful,” Cooley said of his prep work. “You know about Virginia, you know the program and you have a great amount of respect for them, but you don’t know know them. We don’t know the nuances. We know the basics of what they’re about, which is simple in a positive way because they’re so good at what they do.”

Cooley said he watched a bunch of Virginia offense, starting with personnel, the base offense, and went from there, reviewing five or six games.

Virginia has prepared similarly.

“I think you have to be true to who you are,” Bennett said about what he prioritizes in NCAA practice settings. “You know you’re going to have to be as good as you can defensively and make them earn. You look at their point guard and their experience, but you pick three or four things and say, fellas, this is who we are. Let’s be as good as we can and hopefully it’s our best against their stuff. You’re going to have to play a complete game. We understand that.

“You can’t overcomplicate it. You don’t have time to. You just have to be as ready as you can.”