UVA hoops on icy start: Chill out, we got this

uva syracuseUVA looked like anything but the second-best team in the country. It took the Cavs 8:30 to score their first points, and five and a half minutes later, they still had just that two points.

Two points. In 14 minutes.

You’d think a look over at the Virginia bench and a scan of the faces of the guys on the floor would show panic bordering on the manic.

And you’d be wrong in thinking that.

“I just looked at the guys and I said, All we’ve got is each other. We’re going to have to try to figure this out,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.

“I’ve been in those spots before. We couldn’t change anything. We’re just either going to sink or swim with these guys.”

The unlikeliest person on the floor stopped the bleeding. Junior Evan Nolte, who was inserted into the starting lineup when All-America candidate Justin Anderson went down on Feb. 7 with a broken finger on his left (shooting) hand, and was averaging just 3.9 points per game in his increased minutes since, connected on a three from 25 feet out at the 6:06 mark.

That cut the deficit to 13-5, which might say something to you when you look back at the score and think about it.

As bad as things were going for the ‘Hoos, Syracuse had just 13 points in 14 minutes itself.

Bennett likes to say that no matter what you do on offense, defense travels. Good thing it made the drive up Interstate 81.

The Nolte three ignited a run that saw Virginia score on its last nine possessions of the first half and then six of its first seven possessions in the second half.

With 15:34 left, less than 10 minutes of game time from the three that took UVA from two to five on the scoreboard above, the Cavs had turned a 13-2 deficit to a 40-27 lead.

It’s OK to admit it now. You were watching, and you saw the two on the scoreboard with the clock ticking toward 6:00, and you weren’t sure UVA would get to double figures. (For the game.)

On their first 17 possessions, Virginia had 10 turnovers and was 1-of-11 from the field. The Orange 2-3 zone had UVA stagnant, content to pass the ball around the perimeter and hoist end-of-the-shot-clock threes.

(The ‘Hoos had six misses from three in that 14-minute stretch.)

“We didn’t want it to take that long, but we definitely had to feel our way through the zone,” said point guard London Perrantes, who finished with 10 points and 10 assists.

“Once we found our way, it was over.”

And indeed, it was. After a Mike Tobey dunk gave UVA that 40-27 lead with 15:34 left, the margin never got back to single digits.

That was the defense traveling. After digging that 13-2 hole, Virginia outscored ‘Cuse 57-34 over the final 26:06.

“They clearly are the second-best team in the country from what I’ve seen,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I think they are tremendously well-coached. They’ve got tremendous physical strength. The players are underrated – they are much better players than people might think.

“There’s a reason they’ve just lost one game. I think they can beat just about anybody,” Boeheim said.

– Column by Chris Graham

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is now available at a special pre-sale discounted price of $20. The book is expected to ship by June 10, 2019, and will retail for $25.
Pre-order for $20: click here.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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