Elite Eight Awaits Triumphant 'Hoos
March 26, 2016
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CHICAGO — There’s more to this University of Virginia men’s basketball team than its All-American guard, no matter how magnificent Malcolm Brogdon has been this season. The Cavaliers hammered home that point again Friday night, and now they’re headed to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.
In a game in which Iowa State’s All-American forward, Georges Niang, scored 30 of his team’s 71 points — 42.3 percent — Brogdon had only 12 for UVA, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. But his teammates were collectively brilliant, and that bodes well for Virginia (29-7) as its heads into its NCAA quarterfinal with ACC rival Syracuse (22-13) at the United Center.
A win Sunday — the game will start at 6:09 p.m. Eastern — would send the Wahoos to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.
“Unbelievably encouraging,” associate head coach Ron Sanchez said of UVA’s balance in its 84-71 victory over No. 4 seed Iowa State.
“Mike Tobey, Anthony Gill, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok … This is a team,” Sanchez said. “We’re not a one-man show. I know that Malcolm’s had an unbelievable year, but when you see your teammates contributing like that, it really helps.”
Brogdon, a 6-5 fifth-year senior, missed 9 of 13 shots from the floor against the Cyclones (23-12), but he had five assists, two rebounds and two steals.
“He let the game come to him,” Sanchez said. “He didn’t force any shots, which shows you the quality of player that he is. He’s more interested in winning than he is in getting his own stats. That’s why he’s the kind of player that he is.”
Brogdon, the ACC player of the year, said that early in the Cavaliers’ conference schedule, particularly in road losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State, “I think I would have kept shooting. But we’ve gotten this far because we play as a team, because I defer when other people are playing really well, because other guys defer when I’m playing well, and we just play well together. We embrace our pillar of unity, and I tried to get other guys involved but stay aggressive tonight, and we were able to get the win.”
The `Hoos never trailed Friday night. Hall opened the scoring with a 3-pointer 28 seconds in, and two more treys — both by junior point guard London Perrantes — pushed Virginia’s lead to 17-3 with 14:41 left.
The Cavaliers twice led by 17 points in the first half.
“Everyone’s head was in the right place,” said Shayok, a 6-5 sophomore. “Everyone was ready to go, ready to play hard, and this is one of the most complete games we’ve played so far.”
Perrantes didn’t score again after hitting his second 3-pointer, but he handed out a game-high nine assists, with no turnovers, and his unselfishness proved contagious among his teammates.
“He’s got such good feel,” head coach Tony Bennett said of Perrantes, a three-year starter. “He knows when to get the ball swung, when to look inside, and you need that. He just ties it all together.”
Hall, a redshirt sophomore guard, finished with a career-high seven assists, and Virginia totaled a season-high 26, a program record in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re such an unselfish group,” Hall said, “and it really does show.”
One of the pillars of the Cavaliers’ program is unity, Bennett reminded reporters at his postgame press conference, “and there’s an African proverb that says, `If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ “
The `Hoos went together Friday night.
“We have some very individually talented guys,” Bennett said, “but they know when they’re in concert with each other that’s their way to touch greatness, and it’s validated because they’ve done it. When they share the ball, when they get good shots, they celebrate that. They’re such a unified group that way, and there’s not egos in there, and I think that experience of playing and being in tough settings has made a difference.”
The United Center, home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, certainly qualified as a tough setting for the `Hoos. Never mind their No. 1 seeding in the Midwest Region. Iowa State’s campus is about 350 miles from Chicago, and the Big 12 school has a large alumni base in this city.
Not surprisingly, then, Iowa State supporters outnumbered Virginia fans, who included Bennett’s parents, by a healthy margin Friday night.
“It was like a home game for [the Cyclones] more than anything,” Brogdon said, “but that’s something that fires us up as competitors. We got to the point where we were playing well during away games towards the end of ACC play, so we embraced it. It was a challenge, and we were able to overcome it.”
The Cavaliers made only four treys Friday night, but they dominated inside, and that was the difference. Big men Gill, Tobey and Isaiah Wilkins combined for 53 points and 19 rebounds.
Gill, a 6-8 fifth-year senior, led UVA with a season-high 23 points and eight boards. Tobey, a 7-0 senior, came off the bench to score a season-high 18 points — he was 8 for 12 from the floor — and grab seven rebounds, including four at the offensive end. Wilkins, a 6-7 sophomore, scored 12 points, his first game in double figures since Feb. 9.
Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said the “thing that’s given our team troubles at times is the physicality up front … Perimeter-wise we did a pretty good job [against Virginia] … But Tobey is big and physical, and those guys like that have presented us [with] a problem throughout the year.”
Tobey is in the midst of a late-season surge Virginia hopes will continue for another three games. He had 15 points and a career-best 20 rebounds in Virginia’s regular-season finale against Louisville, and he’s scored at least eight points in four of the six games since then.
“Mike is a guy that’s come into his own towards the end of ACC play,” Brogdon said. “I’m not even sure if this was his best game. That Louisville game … was a monster game. But this was a huge game for him, huge game for us. When Mike comes out and he’s aggressive and confident and plays like that, the way he’s been playing, we’re another level team. He’s playing with a lot of confidence, and we’re happy he’s doing that.”
Tobey towered over the Cyclones inside, especially when 6-9 Jameel McKay was out of the game.
“So I really just tried to take advantage of that,” Tobey said. “My teammates did a great job of feeding me the ball when I had the advantage, as well.”
If not for foul trouble, Niang, a 6-8, 230-pound senior, might well have played 40 minutes against Virginia. In 34 minutes, he still made an indelible mark, hitting 11 of 20 shots from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and grabbing a team-high eight rebounds. Niang wasn’t perfect — he turned the ball over five times — but he also had four assists and a steal.
“He’s a special player,” Bennett said.
With 15:25 remaining, Niang went 1 for 2 from the line to pull Iowa State to 49-40. That marked the first time since the 15:26 mark of the first half the Cyclones had trailed by fewer than 10 points, and they cut their deficit to seven with 14:03 left.
With the scoreboard showing 51-44, Iowa State fans roared, and Bennett considered calling a timeout. But he decided to wait at least one more possession, and his players rewarded Bennett’s faith in them. With 13:44 left, Tobey converted a three-point play to push Virginia’s lead back to 10.
“I was happy to see what Mike did,” Bennett said.
The Cyclones never conceded, but Virginia continued to punish them inside. Of the Cavaliers’ final 12 field goals, six came on dunks, three on layups, two on stickbacks, and one on a jump hook.
That interior dominance allowed the Cavaliers to surmount a hurdle they couldn’t clear in 2014, when they lost to Michigan State in a Sweet Sixteen game at Madison Square Garden.
The Spartans knocked Virginia out of the NCAAs last season, too, this time in the round of the 32. And so its victory over Iowa State was especially satisfying for UVA, which is in its seventh season under Bennett.
“It’s a great blessing that we’re in this position to play in the Elite Eight,” Shayok said. “A lot of hard work paid off, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Virginia needs no introduction to Syracuse, which rallied late Friday night to knock off 11th-seeded Gonzaga 63-60 in the second game at the United Center. The Orange visited John Paul Jones Arena on Jan. 24. The Cavaliers prevailed 73-65, but the score doesn’t reflect how close Syracuse came in the final minutes.
The rematch, at a neutral site, figures to be fiercely contested, too, and the `Hoos wouldn’t have it any other way. They made history Friday night, and they’ll look to make more Sunday night.
“We put in our mind early this season that we were going to go out here and make the deepest run that we can,” Gill said, “and the Elite Eight was not our goal.”
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was asked late Friday night about facing the Cavaliers again.
“They know us and we know them, and what I know about them, I don’t like,” Boeheim said. “They’ve got a great team. I’m going to try not to think about that for another 10 or 15 minutes.”