You don’t have to be the best team in the country every night to win a national title. Just the best team in the gym six nights in March and early April.
Eighth-ranked UVA didn’t look like one of the best teams in the country this weekend in Brooklyn in winning the Barclays Center Classic. But the Cavs did more than enough to take home the tournament title in wins over LaSalle and Rutgers, and also get some quality work in toward their end goal.
“We said, All right, we’re going to win it with our defense. We’re going to play defense. Both teams were very fatigued, you could see that. It was going to be who could outlast who. Our guys chose to put the effort out,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the 45-26 win over Rutgers Saturday night that brought home the tournament title.
It wasn’t pretty, to say the least. Rutgers led 18-17 at the half, and the outcome was still in doubt into the final five minutes, though in retrospect Virginia took Rutgers’ will not long after halftime.
The Scarlet Knights scored just eight points in the second half on 4-of-26 shooting from the field.
You could say that Virginia closed the game on a 28-8 second-half run, but it wasn’t so much a run as a chokehold that, by the fact that the rules in basketball aren’t like those in MMA, meant that Rutgers couldn’t just tap out to put an end to the pain and suffering.
“It’s great for us to see our defense work like that,” said Anthony Gill, the tournament MVP after scoring 13 points in the championship game. “We couldn’t really hit anything tonight. We ended up executing and getting the ball inside in the second half. But 26 points? Rutgers is a great team. They can score a lot of points. For us to hold a good scoring team like that to that number, that’s great.”
Twenty-six points is how you shoot 32.7 percent from the field and win by 19. It was the lowest offensive output for Rutgers since 1943, obviously pre-shot clock era, if not quite just post-peach basket era.
Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan, a former NBA head coach now in his second season at his alma mater, said afterward that he didn’t feel like his players had anything to hang their heads about.
“They have good players who are willing and determined to be as good as a team,” Jordan said of Virginia. “They’ll defend. I had experience with the New Jersey Nets, not in this building. But we had Kenyon Martin, Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles and Dikembe (Mutombo), those guys you don’t have a whole lot to say to them.
“They want to defend. It seems like that’s what they do. They want to defend, and they got good size at every position. Good athletes at every position. They got good players, and that makes up a good team,” Jordan said.
– Column by Chris Graham