Bennett on Gonzaga loss: ‘We didn’t have a place in that game today’
All week long, UVA Basketball Twitter was, well, predictable. Their favorite team had no chance against Gonzaga, was the consensus.
And then those first five minutes happened.
Tony Bennett hates to use timeouts to try to quash opponent runs, but the media couldn’t get its timeout in soon enough.
It was 18-5 ‘Zags when Bennett had to call a 30.
“I was hoping we would get off to a better start to be in it, but I don’t think we were. We didn’t have a place in that game today. We didn’t,” a blunt Bennett said after the 98-75 beatdown handed his team.
A min-run briefly got Virginia back to within six, but Gonzaga would lead by as many as 20 in the opening 20, before a 7-0 Virginia run cut the deficit to 13 at the half.
Bennett isn’t usually as blunt as he was in his postgame assessment. He’s also not usually one for fiery halftime speeches, but he tried.
“It was a pretty intense halftime,” Bennett said. “It was about fighting. It was about soundness and toughness. Gonzaga, you just could feel it. I thought for some guys it was a bit overwhelming, for some it was new experiences, and some it was like, we just, we got to fight everything, you got to do those things we talked about.”
There was fight. What there wasn’t was execution, particularly on the defensive end.
Gonzaga made 21 of its 29 shots at the rim – coming in, Virginia had been allowing opponents just 19.4 shots at the rim, and a 44.3 percent field-goal percentage against.
A lot of it was basic trouble picking up the back end of ball screens.
“We had a lot of trouble on ball screen defense. We’re so worried about our guys, we were stretching, and there was layups at the rim. And then when we stayed too long, we left guys wide open. So, they had us every time, and that was hard,” Bennett said.
Gonzaga made 10 threes, but really it was just 6’7” senior Corey Kispert – who had three threes in that opening 18-5 run, and finished with nine makes from long-range.
The way basketball is played today, guided by the advanced metrics, the best shots are rim runs and open threes.
When a team has a guy go 9-of-13 from three and makes 21-of-29 at the rim, that’s the formula.
Virginia was respectable on offense – shooting 48.1 percent (26-of-54) and 10-of-25 (40 percent) from three.
The big issue: turnovers.
In the game-opening run that dug the big hole, UVA turned the ball over four times – with turnovers on the first three possessions for good measure.
The total for the game: a season-high 15.
Junior point guard Kihei Clark had six of them.
“Oh, yeah, six turnovers, you’re not going to win if you’re point guard and your leader has that,” said Clark, who had a team-high 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting, and added four assists, in 33 minutes.
“I don’t think I played that well,” Clark said. “I had 19 points, but the six turnovers is no good. I think that cancels out my offensive game.”
This was the tune-up that Bennett chose a week ago – after games against Michigan State and Villanova were lost to COVID-19 issues – for ACC play, which starts for Virginia this coming Wednesday, on the road at Notre Dame.
There’s clearly a ton of work to do – cleaning up the turnovers, the defensive issues with ball screens and perimeter closeouts.
And maybe a bit of work in instilling confidence in a group that came into the season as a Final Four favorite that is now an underwhelming 4-2 heading into conference play.
It starts: on defense.
It’s Virginia we’re talking about here.
“We haven’t guarded well this year yet, and that’s something we got to just keep trying to do,” Bennett said. “We lost a lot in the defensive side of things and that’s some place we got to shore up and keep getting better.”
Story by Chris Graham