Questions answered: #12 UVA starting to round into form
No one was emerging as a go-to guy in the post to replace Austin Nichols, a transfer who had been expected to replace the productivity lost to the graduation of Anthony Gill.
No one, either, was stepping up to fill the void from the departure of guard Malcolm Brogdon, of late seen posterizing LeBron James in the NBA.
Nobody was averaging double figures. Which wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, with the Cavs at 9-1, a late loss to West Virginia the only blemish on a schedule that included wins over Iowa, Providence and Ohio State.
But still. How would this team respond when challenged, as you knew would be the case when the ball was tipped at Cal on Wednesday night.
The Bears went into the game with Virginia with a 27-game home winning streak, which ain’t chopped liver, when you play in the Pac 12.
For whatever reason, the oddsmakers installed UVA as a three-point road favorite, but having watched this team for the past six weeks, you just knew that this one was going to be of the season-defining variety.
A Cal team with a preseason All-America at center, in Ivan Rabb, and future NBA talent on the perimeter (Jabari Bird), could make this one a rout against a team in its first road test of the season.
After an ugly first half ended in a 22-all tie, the test came early in the second half, with Cal opening on a 7-1 run in the first 90 seconds to go up six.
Then, after Virginia took a nine-point lead, Cal answered by holding the ‘Hoos scoreless for more than six minutes to take a one-point lead just outside of six minutes to go.
It was answer time, and the answer was: Kyle Guy.
A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Guy was expected to be the, ahem, guy, to replace Brogdon, if not right away, then eventually, as the go-to scorer in the backcourt.
But Guy wasn’t able to get on the floor with consistency through the first 10 games of his freshman season, despite his prodigious talents on the offensive end.
To earn PT under Tony Bennett, of course, you have to be able to play defense, and Guy has been getting better on the defensive end.
He was better enough Wednesday night to start the second half on the floor, and it was a corner three from Guy that ignited a 17-2 run that answered the early Cal burst in the second half.
After that long scoring drought ended with the Bears back on top, Guy took over, scoring seven straight, on two mid-range jumpers and a three, before making the play of the game, pump-faking and dribbling into the lane to feed a cutting Isaiah Wilkins for an and-one that broke a 49-49 tie with 1:02 to go.
Virginia would never trail after that play, and a pair of Guy free throws, on a 1-and-1 with 15.9 seconds left, would seal it.
UVA is still on the lookout for a post scorer to replace Gill and Nichols, but Wednesday night it found what it has been looking for in the backcourt.
We all knew Kyle Guy would be the answer. It was fun seeing it happen organically.
Column by Chris Graham