The calendar may say November, but Virginia’s thrilling 73-70 win over the Florida Gators on Friday had a January, February-like feel.
The Cavaliers advanced to 2-0 on the season, despite another dreadful performance from the charity stripe and uncalled-for assistance from a well-known basketball analyst.
Well well-known to UVA fans at least, Cory Alexander.
I have been covering Virginia sports for four decades; this is the first column I have had an opportunity to reference a courtside announcer as part of the story.
And I’m going no further with this.
I’m too angry, too pissed to continue.
And I know my running mate Chris Graham is churning out a doozy on this, as I write.
This should be interesting.
Now back to the game.
Tony Bennett has said that he has a lot to learn about his newest edition of Virginia men’s basketball.
What he learned Friday night in Charlotte was that he has a squad that withstands a punch, by punching back.
Virginia withstood a furious Florida second-half run with one of its own to claim the win in the Hall of Fame series at the Spectrum Center.
Some observations after this wild finish.
I told you about Blake Buchanan
After Monday’s opening-night win over Tarleton State, I said that a deeper-dive into Buchannan’s college debut was better than the stat sheet indicated.
Tonight, against a vastly different level of competition, the stat sheet agreed.
Blake Buchanan: 18 points, seven rebounds, one steal, one foul in 27 minutes.
Buchanan made an impact immediately upon entering the game.
Trailing Florida 14-7 five minutes into play, Buchanan checked in, and the game immediately changed.
Virginia went on an 11-0 run; Florida was virtually shut out on the inside, as UVA took a 39-35 lead at the break.
His length, his ability to crash the boards, his mobility frustrated the Gators.
Monday, I wrote that with experience and confidence, Buchanan’s offensive ability would materialize.
I did not write or think it would be Friday.
Monday, it was the veterans; against Florida, the newcomers served notice
In Monday’s season opener, Virginia’s returning players led the way. Friday night the newcomers made a statement.
Along with Buchanan, Oklahoma transfer Jake Groves added 12.
In the second half, Groves led a UVA spurt that gave the Cavaliers a 52-41 lead, hitting back-to-back three-pointers.
Rebounding and free-throw shooting must improve
Florida had a whopping 21 offensive rebounds, leading to 19 second-chance points. That just can’t happen against quality competition.
Was it lack of size, lack of physicality, or just inexperience? Whatever the reason, Virginia must correct this deficiency.
The expectation is that once Buchanan, Groves and Ryan Dunn become more comfortable together on the floor, those numbers will decrease.
Virgina was bad at the foul line Monday against Tarleton State.
But against the overmatched Texans, the Cavaliers survived without any threat.
Against the Gators, the poor free throw shooting was almost lethal.
Reece Beeman was just 1-of-4 at the line, including two misses late in the game.
Free throw shooting should correct itself. If not, it could become serious.
Rotation got tighter
Eight players saw action against Florida. Leon Bond III played for only four minutes. Merrimack transfer Jordan Minor and junior Taine Murray didn’t get off the bench.
Bond’s diminished role may have been because he’s a 6’5” forward, and Florida is huge upfront. He simply didn’t match up.
Early on this year, Bond’s playing time will vary from opponent to opponent, the matchup dictating how much action he will see.
Minor is a bit bigger, stronger, but it’s obvious he’s not up to speed in the challenging Pack Line defensive scheme.
A hiccup might happen from time to time, but this team is going to be good
The athleticism is easily noticed. This year’s Virginia’s squad has plenty of talent, it’s just going to take time to gel.
The transfer portal has limited the possibility of most coaches’ hopes of having a veteran, experienced team.
Now, most programs face the challenge of a rebuilt team every season.
Virginia is the poster child for that concept this season.
The Cavaliers are still in the infancy of getting used to playing together, understanding their roles.
Tonight, with the hard-fought win over a strong SEC team, Virginia may have taken a huge step toward defending the ACC regular-season title.