A tale of two halves: UVA comes back from sloppy first half to top George Washington

uva basketballEverything was going right for George Washington, and wrong for ninth-ranked UVA.

The Colonials, in search of a signature road win in November to boost its NCAA Tournament resume, was shooting 45.8 percent at the half against the normally rugged UVA defense, which hadn’t allowed any of its first three, overmatched, opponents to shoot 30 percent, and it could have been better if not for two or three missed bunnies and a couple more good looks from midrange that just rimmed out.

The Cavs, meanwhile, couldn’t throw it in the water if they were standing beachside, limping to the break shooting 33 percent, and taking uncharacteristic forced, early in the shot clock shots in the final five minutes of the first half.

And then you looked at the scoreboard. GW was up just four. Not a good sign for a team that should have been up double digits given the way the first half was played.

“You can’t expect to start a game with that kind of mindset offensively, or you will be in trouble, and we were,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said after his team had turned the 26-22 halftime deficit into a convincing 59-42 win.

The big second half sent the fans home happy, but the sloppy first half will keep Bennett up late tonight.

“That is not the type of basketball we are trying to attain, and we need to learn from that, or it will be a problem,” said Bennett, who got his team’s attention at the halftime break, reminding the ‘Hoos that they had been down at the half in the NCAA Tournament in March against Coastal Carolina, and had worked themselves out of that hole.

GW was in the building that night, literally, having played its NCAA Tournament game at the PNC Arena in Raleigh earlier in the evening, losing to Memphis. These Colonials are expected to make a return trip to the Big Dance, and were projected preseason to compete for the top spot in the stacked Atlantic 10.

George Washington had already won one on the road against a Power 5, beating Rutgers by 17 last weekend. Virginia had beaten up on a trio of cupcakes before facing its first test of 2014-2015 on Friday night, and the lack of an early challenge showed.

“This was the first NCAA tournament team from last year that we’ve played against so far this year, so there was a lot of emotion,” said junior forward Justin Anderson, who scored a game-high 18 points. “They came in here extremely hungry like we knew they were going to be, and I think that our crowd was so good tonight that we got a little bit ahead of ourselves.”

That much was obvious in the early stages. George Washington jumped out to an early 6-2 lead by the first media timeout, and maintained a working margin the rest of the first half, leading by as many as seven before Virginia closed to four at the horn.

The second half was an extended Cavalanche. UVA came out of the locker room on a 14-2 scoring run in the first 4:45 to take an eight-point lead, and after GW closed to within two at 36-34 at the 11:23 mark, Virginia put the game out of reach with an extended 17-3 run over the next 8:06 to go up 16.

Virginia shot 50 percent (15-of-30) from the floor in the final 20 minutes, but where things really turned around was on the defensive end. After the Colonials shot 45.8 percent in the first half, they were only able to make 20 percent of their shots (5-of-25) in the second half.

“We came out there and decided to play better defense,” said junior forward Anthony Gill. “In the first half, we had a lot of mental lapses. I know I had a lot of turnovers in the first half that were hurting the team. We started focusing and playing team basketball.”

So GW came in looking for a signature win to put on its NCAA resume, and instead Virginia got a nice one to put on its ledger with a few more tough non-conference tests still to come in the next few weeks.

“It’s a very good win against a very quality opponent,” junior guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “I can’t say enough about how good that team is. They actually play very similar ball to us. They imposed their will on us in the first half.”

– Column by Chris Graham



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