Dec. 23, 2015
By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, the season’s first 10 games brought victories of almost every variety, among them a stirring comeback win over West Virginia, as well as a painful loss at George Washington.
Game No. 11 brought great drama, and it sent fifth-ranked Virginia into the holiday break with a triumph that left its opponent stunned at John Paul Jones Arena late Tuesday night.
Against Pac-12 member California, whose starters include projected NBA lottery picks Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, the Cavaliers led for all of 22 seconds in regulation. In overtime, they led for 10 seconds.
Somehow, though, that was enough for the Wahoos, and when the final horn sounded, triggering one last roar from the jubilant crowd of 13,265, they had secured an improbable 63-62 victory.
“I don’t think we got over the hump till that last shot,” said junior point guard London Perrantes, who delivered the coup de grace with a 3-pointer from the left wing. “We were struggling the whole game … But we’re just finding a way. That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past three years. We showed that we can fight through it all.”
With 53 seconds left in OT, fifth-year senior Malcolm Brogdon, a 6-5 guard, pulled UVA to 62-60 with a 3-pointer from the left corner. After getting a stop at the other end, the `Hoos called a timeout with 22.3 seconds to play, and head coach Tony Bennett drew up a play whose options included a catch-and-shoot trey by Perrantes.
Teammate Anthony Gill did not set a textbook screen for Perrantes, whose shot was contested by Cal guard Tyrone Wallace. Perrantes, in fact, thought Wallace fouled him, but the officials’ whistles remained silent. It didn’t matter.
Perrantes’ shot dropped through with 10 seconds remaining, and Virginia’s defense did the rest.
“Give those guys credit,” Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Tremendous job executing down the stretch and making plays.”
The Golden Bears (9-3) scored the game’s first eight points, and more than five minutes passed before Virginia (10-1) made its first field goal. At halftime, after missing 18 of 22 shots from the floor, Virginia trailed 27-20 against a tall, long, athletic opponent, and Brogdon was 0 for 4, as was Gill, another fifth-year senior.
“We had a hard time,” Bennett said. “We were a little impatient offensively and weren’t dialed in defensively.”
Twice in the second half, Cal stretched its lead to 11 points, the second time with about 13 minutes remaining. Still, Bennett implored his players to continue battling.
“I just kept saying, `Get a score, get a stop. Score. Stop. There’s still time,’ ” Bennett told reporters.
The Cavaliers’ comeback began with a jump hook by the 6-8 Gill. That made it 46-37 with 12:45 to play and started a 6-0 run that included a dunk by 6-7 freshman Jarred Reuter off a slick pass from Perrantes and a driving layup by Perrantes.
Another basket by Reuter cut Cal’s lead to 48-43 with 8:55 remaining. Jabari Bird answered with a jump shot for the Bears, who still appeared to be in control. But Virginia held them to two points in the final 7:30 of regulation to force overtime.
“It’s what UVA basketball is built upon, defense,” Gill said, “and we went out there and showed it in the second half today.”
Bennett said: “In the second half we started scrapping defensively. We started really battling and getting stops. And then of course some big plays were made, and we were running harder offensively with our cuts, and guys were attacking at the right time.”
On a night when its top two offensive players, Brogdon and Gill, were a combined 8 for 26 from the floor, Virginia received significant contributions from Perrantes, Reuter and sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins.
Perrantes totaled 10 points, six rebounds, one steal and no turnovers. Reuter, in a 16-minute appearance, his longest as a Cavalier, scored a career-high 11 points. He made 3 of 4 shots from the floor and 5 of 6 from the line.
“Hat’s off to him, because he played great tonight,” Gill said. “We were really happy for him, and we really needed it. Without him tonight, I don’t think we would have won that game.”
Wilkins, in his second start as a Cavalier, played 30 minutes and finished with a team-high seven rebounds, along with five points, one assist and one steal. As always, the box score did not fully reflect Wilkins’ value to the team.
“There’s so many things that aren’t in the stat sheet,” Bennett said, “and that’s why his mobility, his activity, his team mindset defensively is significant for us.”
With the score 50-50, Wilkins hedged on a screen, forcing a turnover. He then picked up the ball and passed ahead to redshirt sophomore guard Darius Thompson, who played for Martin at Tennessee in 2013-14.
Thompson soared for an emphatic one-handed dunk with 1:03 left in the regulation, giving the `Hoos their first lead of the game and whipping the festive crowd into a frenzy.
In overtime, after Cal went up 60-54, Wilkins converted a three-point play to give the Cavaliers renewed hope.
“We really needed that,” Gill said. “It was sort of a momentum swing for us, just to get us back in the game.”
Two free throws by Brown made it 62-57, but the `Hoos kept coming. Heading into the final minute of overtime, Brogdon was 2 for 11 from the floor. Even so, when the ball came him in the left corner, the All-American guard didn’t hesitate, and his third trey pulled Virginia to 62-60 with 53 seconds left.
“As a shooter, as a scorer, you just keep shooting with confidence and hope that they fall when it matters,” Brogdon said. “And that’s sort of what happened tonight.”
At the end of regulation, Brogdon had stripped the ball from Brown to send the game into overtime. So his heroics in the extra period surprised no one.
“He’s proven, and that’s what he does,” said Gill, who led the Cavaliers with 17 points. “He hits big shots. He hit that 3 to get us back in the game, and Coach Bennett drew that play up for him, knowing he didn’t play well before that.
“He trusted him, and Malcolm had the willpower to will it in. We really needed that shot. He really fought back. He kind of moved on from every shot that he missed before that and hit that one.”
Perrantes, who came in shooting a blistering 56.7 percent from 3-point range, was 2 for 3 from beyond the arc Tuesday night.
When his final shot left his hand, Perrantes wasn’t sure if it was on target, “but I’ve been shooting the ball pretty well as of late, so I gave myself an opportunity.”
Brown, a 6-7, 225-pound forward, led all scorers with 18 points, and the 6-11, 220-pound Rabb grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, five at the offensive end. Another Bear, junior guard Jordan Matthews, hit a game-high four treys.
“We were fortunate to come away with that one,” Bennett said. “The way we started, you can’t do that. But we found a way.
“The crowd was phenomenal. It really was. I know a lot of the students weren’t here, but I tell you what, it was booming in there, and that was great.”
After a short Christmas break, the Cavaliers will reconvene in Charlottesville to begin preparations for their final non-conference game. Oakland, which took top-ranked Michigan State to overtime Tuesday night, plays at JPJ on Dec. 30.
“They’re a heck of a team,” Bennett said of the Golden Grizzlies, who defeated Washington 97-83 in Seattle last week.
For the `Hoos, this has been the most challenging non-conference schedule in their seven seasons under Bennett, with games against such teams as GW, Ohio State, William & Mary, West Virginia, Villanova and Cal. Virginia opens ACC play Jan. 2 against Notre Dame at JPJ.
“Heading into conference, that’s what we wanted,” Bennett said. “And here we are. I told the guys, `You asked for it, you got it. Cal’s here, you better play.’ We didn’t come out to play early, but we came to play in the second half.”
Brogdon said: “I think it’s definitely a good momentum boost. We beat a really good team, a young but very talented team that’s going to just get better and better during the season. I think it’s huge for us.”
The Cavaliers are talented, too, but nobody would describe them as young. Among them, Gill, Brogdon and Perrantes have 230 college starts.
“We have a very experienced team that knows how to battle back,” Brogdon said.