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Jan. 24, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — So, what’s a kid from Los Angeles know about the rivalry between UVa and Virginia Tech in men’s basketball? Not much, London Perrantes admits, though he remembers watching the TV broadcast of one of the Cavaliers’ two victories over the Hokies last season.

“That was a pretty intense game,” Perrantes said after practice Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena. “But other than stuff like that, I don’t know too much.”

Others are happy to enlighten him. “A lot of fans have been coming up to me and saying they don’t like Virginia Tech, and stuff like that,” Perrantes said, smiling. “I know it’s a big deal.”

A 6-2 freshman who starred at Crespi Carmelite High in Encino, Calif., Perrantes is the starting point guard for the Cavaliers, who are off to their best start in ACC play since 1994-95. His teammates include sophomore swingman Justin Anderson, a resident of Montross, a small town in Virginia’s Northern Neck.

Anderson said he would explain the UVa-Tech rivalry to Perrantes this way: “You’ll see. You’ll see when it ramps up and the guys are talking a little trash and the fans are booing and the place is packed.”

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Virginia (14-5, 5-1) hosts Virginia Tech (8-10, 1-5) at JPJ. This will be the 138th game in a series that dates to 1915 — UVa leads it 84-53 — and tickets sold out early in the week. The Wahoos have won three straight over Tech and five of the teams’ past six meetings. Still, they don’t expect anything to come easily Saturday.

“The intensity’s on a whole `nother level,” Anderson said. “It’s one of those things that you kind of have to experience, unless you’re on the East Coast, particularly in Virginia, to understand it. I don’t think many understand it outside the state. But once you play in it, you definitely get a good view.”

Some will view this game as a mismatch. In the Cavaliers’ ACC wins, their average margin of victory is 16.6 points, and their defense has been characteristically difficult for opponents to crack.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has lost five straight games, all in the conference, since defeating Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 31. Moreover, one of the Hokies’ guards, redshirt sophomore Adam Smith (11 ppg), is out with a calf injury, and another, freshman Ben Emelogu (11.5 ppg), is questionable for Saturday’s game with a sprained ankle.

Even so, the Hokies worry UVa.

“They’re very competitive,” said Virginia assistant coach Ron Sanchez, who prepared the scouting report on the Hokies. “They play really hard. If there’s a loose ball, they’re diving on the floor. They’re playing with a level of intensity that I think is really impressive.”

Virginia Tech lost 83-77 to Wake Forest in Blacksburg on Wednesday night. With neither Smith nor Emelogu available, freshman Devin Wilson played 40 minutes at point guard and scored a career-best 26 points for second-year coach James Johnson’s Hokies. Senior forward Jarell Eddie, a talented but streaky outside shooter, added 20 points.

Cadarian Raines, a 6-9, 238-pound redshirt senior, concerns the `Hoos, too. He scored a career-high 20 points last weekend at Notre Dame.

“I think as a group they’re playing good basketball,” Sanchez said. “They just gotta find a way to just get over the hump and get the W. If you look at their scores, they’ve lost games by one, by three, by six, so they are really right there. I think that’s a sign of not only their youth but some of the injuries they’ve been battling.”

The key for Virginia, Sanchez said, is to “just focus on what it is we do and don’t worry about doing things that are out of our realm. If we do that, then we should be able to play Virginia basketball: take care of the ball, not turn it over, take quality shots.”

Perrantes has been instrumental in the Cavaliers’ strong start in ACC play. In conference games, he has 29 assists, 10 steals and only seven turnovers. He’s shooting 50 percent (5 for 10) from 3-point range.

In UVa’s nationally televised win over North Carolina on Monday night, Perrantes had a career-high nine assists and hit both of his 3-point attempts. He turned the ball over only once.

“As you saw, he’s very in control and poised,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett told reporters Wednesday.

Perrantes’ “feel for the game” impressed UVa’s coaches during the recruiting process, Bennett said, but they weren’t sure how much he’d contribute as a freshman. To their delight, he’s played with the poise of an upperclassman.

“He has a calming effect on our guys,” Bennett said Monday night. “When the ball’s in his hand, he just doesn’t get sped up. He sees things that most guys don’t see.”

Inconsistent in non-conference play, Perrantes has started every ACC game. He credits the players around him for the numbers he’s putting up.

“If it wasn’t for the team and what they’ve been doing, I wouldn’t be having this success,” Perrantes said.

Early in the season, he said, “I felt like I struggled a little bit. I wasn’t playing as well as I should have, but I knew that was going to come with me getting acquainted to a different level. I feel like I’ve stepped up to the challenge and I’m getting used to it.”

The many West Coast schools that opted not to pursue Perrantes might be regretting those decisions, Bennett pointed out after the UNC game. Perrantes had scholarship offers from three Pac-12 schools — Washington State, Arizona and USC — but says he’s not driven to prove the others wrong.

“I just go out there and try to help the team,” he said. Still, he acknowledged, “I felt like I could play anywhere, and that’s the chip on my shoulder. You gotta go out and feel like nobody can stop you, and just play your game, regardless of who’s in front of you.”

In front of him Saturday, for the first time, will be Virginia Tech. If Perrantes lacks a full appreciation of what this game means to each school, that will soon change, as his older teammates can attest.

“It’s a rivalry,” Anderson said. “That’s what college football’s about, that’s what college basketball’s about. It’s that rivalry game you want to win, where everybody’s loud, everybody’s active. It’s not going to be a dull game, that’s for sure.”

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