By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — UVa men’s basketball players spent much of Sunday night watching the Super Bowl, and Katy Perry’s halftime show, at the team’s hotel here. After New England’s dramatic victory, though, their focus returned to hoops, and preparations for the Cavaliers’ next game continued.
At 7 p.m. Monday, No. 2 Virginia (19-1 overall, 7-1 ACC) meets No. 13 North Carolina (17-5) at the Dean E. Smith Center. ESPN will televise the game. The Tar Heels are coming off an overtime loss at No. 10 Louisville, a defeat in which they squandered an 18-point second-half lead Saturday night.
“North Carolina’s going to come home angry,” UVa swingman Justin Anderson said Sunday, “and their fans are going to give them all the lift they can, and we just gotta make sure we stay poised and remember who we are.”
The Wahoos are not in the best of moods, either. Saturday night at John Paul Jones Arena, the `Hoos lost for the first time since last year’s NCAA tournament. No. 4 Duke, which trailed by 11 early in the second half, scored on its final eight possessions and rallied for a 69-63 victory that ended Virginia’s 21-game home winning streak.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had to face that,” assistant coach Jason Williford said Sunday. “But the odds of us going undefeated were slim, and we knew at some point we were going to face an L. Now we just gotta bounce back. We gotta be able to respond.”
Winning in Chapel Hill is never easy, but that’s “just the nature of the beast in the ACC,” Williford said. “Every game presents different challenges.”
The loss to Duke will motivate the Cavaliers, sophomore point guard London Perrantes said Saturday night, “but I feel like we had that motivation [against the Blue Devils]. I don’t feel like we were complacent at all. We dug ourselves a hole [in the first half]. We got out of it for a little bit, but they came back strong.”
Before taking the main court at JPJ for practice Sunday afternoon, the Cavaliers watched videotape of the previous night’s game. Head coach Tony Bennett led the review.
“It was a really long film session,” Anderson said. “It was hard to watch towards the end. The first part of film session was good, because Coach got after us. He told us what we did, and how we put ourselves in a position to not finish the game.
“But at the end, watching it was almost like reliving it, and my stomach was hurting in the film room. But you learn from it and you keep going, to see another day.”
Duke made four 3-pointers in the final 3:25. Bennett said Sunday that he had no issues with his team’s defense on two of those treys.
“The other two, we were there,” Bennett said, “but we didn’t close out at a level that perhaps could have bothered their shots.”
Another concern was the Cavaliers’ transition defense. They came into the game having allowed only 31 fast-break points all season. Duke had 14 on Saturday night, 10 in the first half.
“I thought we played some good ball in the second half, for sure,” Bennett said. “But in the first half, as everybody certainly saw, we couldn’t keep them out of the lane.”
Not only did the Blue Devils hurt Virginia in transition, they regularly got to the basket in their halfcourt offense. From inside the 3-point arc, Duke shot 22 for 38.
“We needed to be getting straight As in our transition defense, and we were doing it at about a C-minus clip,” Bennett said. “Against a team like Duke, that’s not good enough.
“The better the opponent, the bigger the game, the little things get exposed, and I think [Duke] exposed where we were weak.”
UVa’s transition defense figures to be tested again Monday night. Under head coach Roy Williams, the Tar Heels look to run at every opportunity, and they’re averaging 79.5 points per game. Four players average in double figures for UNC: guard Marcus Paige (14.2) center Kennedy Meeks (12.8), power forward Brice Johnson (11.8) and swingman Justin Jackson (10.0).
“We were able to learn some stuff from the Duke game that I think will help prepare us for Carolina, especially our transition defense,” Williford said. “We gotta be better in that regard. Transition defense is huge, and then offensive rebounds. We gotta keep them off the glass.”
UVa averages 10.9 offensive boards per game. The Heels, by comparison, average 15.5.
“They’re one of the top two teams in the country in offensive rebounding,” Williford said, “so we gotta block out and try our best to limit them to one-and-done.”
Virginia grabbed 15 offensive rebounds against Duke and turned them into 17 second-chance points. Overall, though, it was not a memorable night for the Cavaliers offensively. Only two players scored in double figures — redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon (17 points) and Anderson (11) — and only two made at least half of their field-goal attempts.
One was freshman forward Isaiah Wilkins (3 for 5), who came off the bench to contribute seven points and five rebounds in 14 minutes. The other was Perrantes, who also was 3 for 5 and finished with seven points.
Perrantes, a two-year starter, hit the only trey he attempted Saturday night, and Bennett wants him to look for his shot more. Only once this season, when he rang up a career-high 26 points in an overtime win over ACC rival Miami, has Perrantes scored in double figures. That’s in part because he’s often reluctant to shoot.
“We talked about that,” Bennett said. “I think he needs to step in and let it go. He hit the big [3-pointer against Duke] and he’s showed he’s a good pressure shooter. We don’t want him forcing or being something he’s not, but to absolutely step in there and, when it’s a rhythm shot, let it go.”
In 2013-14, the Cavaliers dropped only two ACC games. The first was at Duke, the second at Maryland in the regular-season finale. The `Hoos won 13 straight games after losing in Durham. They bounced back from the loss in College Park to capture the ACC tournament for the first time since 1976.
How will this UVa team respond to its first setback of 2015?
“We’ll find out,” Bennett said Sunday. “Hopefully we’ll be resilient. And there’s no better way to test it than at Carolina in a game against that kind of competition on the road. So we’ll have to be ready. I told the guys, it’s about trying to play some of our best ball as we’re heading into the stretch run of the season.”