Things had been going the way seventh-ranked UVA had wanted them to. Then Treveon Graham happened.
Three straight trips down the floor, VCU ran a dribble-penetration play with point guards Briante Weber and Melvin Johnson on the left side of the floor that found one of the few holes in the Virginia Pack-Line. Once the post defender committed to cutting off the penetration, that freed up Graham to set up in the corner for the open look at three.
Three straight times, Graham flushed the three, and what had been an 11-point Virginia lead evaportated in a flash to four, sandwiched around an Anthony Gill post basket.
Timeout, Virginia, 6:58 left. The Siegel Center, rollicking in the pregame, louder in the opening minutes, then silent for a long stretch as the ‘Hoos built a double-digit, was at a fever pitch.
It was a good test for Tony Bennett’s guys, the first big one for the 2014-2015 UVA team.
All you need to know from here is that VCU would not make another shot from the floor.
A London Perrantes floater, an Evan Nolte three, and the first meaningful Cavalanche of 2014-2015 had begun.
Virginia made five straight from the field, harassed VCU into an 0-for-7 stretch, and that added up to a 15-0 run over the next 5:51.
UVA has now won four games in a row on a two-week road odyssey that has had them in Brooklyn, College Park and now Richmond.
This week’s wins, at #21 Maryland and VCU, who had each handed Virginia losses in 2013-2014, were particularly impressive.
The conventional wisdom about Bennett’s teams is that they want the game to be played at a snail’s pace, and that when faced with pressure by teams who play tempo they are lost.
Naturally, Virginia wins scoring 76 at Maryland and 74 at VCU, shooting 53.1 percent against the Terps and 68.3 percent in dispatching the Rams.
And on the other end of the floor, the ‘Hoos held Maryland to 40 percent shooting from the field, and VCU to 38.3 percent.
More possessions is no problem for this group, though you can bet that Bennett still prefers the slower tempo, grind-it-out games that his teams win by submission more than anything else.
But with up-tempo ACC foes in Duke, UNC and Louisville coming up after the first of the year, UVA will need to be able to run with the big boys.
Saturday, the Cavs proved that they can.
– Column by Chris Graham