By Jeff White
SANT JULIÃ DE VILATORTA, Spain– In this small town 55 miles north of Barcelona, reserve guard Trevon Gross Jr. dribbled out the final seconds in the University of Virginia basketball team’s one-sided win Wednesday night, a 85-49 rout of the outmanned Sant Julia All-Stars.
Thus ended the on-court portion of the Cavaliers’ 10-day tour of Spain. Still to come was a rambunctious bus ride back to Barcelona for the 11 p.m. soccer match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla at Camp Nou, the storied 99,000-seat stadium.
“Hey, Johnny, are you ready for the Messi show?” redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite yelled to a UVA staffer between chants from the players.
The great Lionel Messi indeed put on a show in FC Barcelona’s 3-0 win in the Spanish Super Cup final. The Wahoos dominated, too, in their Spain finale. But their 5-0 record on this trip painted an incomplete picture of the Cavaliers’ performance in their second visit to Europe under head coach Tony Bennett.
In the first, in August 2012, UVA went 2-3 against teams from the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The Spanish teams Virginia faced offered much less resistance.
“This competition isn’t anything close to what we’ll see [during the season],” Bennett said, “so if people try to read into these scores and [UVA] going undefeated, they’re making a big mistake.
“It was poor competition … but it was very good for our younger players to get this experience. It was good for our older guys to at least be reminded how to play, and then having the 10 practices [in Charlottesville before the trip], that was so valuable.”
In Getafe, a suburb of Madrid, Virginia defeated the Madrid Generals 92-81 and 78-76 last week. Then, in Albacete, the `Hoos crushed Arcos Albacete 70-44 on Saturday.
The opponent Tuesday and Wednesday was Sant Julia, in a 500-seat gym called Pavello Esportiu Municipal, where the crowd each night included a sprinkling of UVA fans.
On Tuesday night, as the players and coaches from each team stood at attention, two songs were played before tipoff: the Star-Spangled Banner and Els Segadors, the national anthem of Catalonia, the autonomous region of Spain in which Barcelona and Sant Julia de Vilatorta are located.
Holding the Catalonia flag during the anthems were the UVA traveling party’s four youngest members: Cam and Austin Williford, sons of assistant coach Jason Williford and his wife, Kwamina; Sami Saliba, son of head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba and his wife, Susan; and Eli Bennett, son of head coach Tony Bennett and his wife, Laurel.
Jason Williford‘s thoughts when he saw his boys with the flag at midcourt?
“Just don’t drop it,” he said, laughing.
As was the case in Madrid and Albacete, the Cavaliers held significant edges in size and athleticism in Sant Julia de Vilatorta.
On Tuesday, the `Hoos rested three of their most experienced players — junior Isaiah Wilkins and redshirt juniors Darius Thompson and Marial Shayok — and still won 72-62, though the final minutes included some unexpected drama.
After a free throw by freshman guard Ty Jerome put Virginia up 66-56 with 4:22 to play, Sant JuliÃƒÆ’Ã†’Â ran off six straight points, and suddenly the outcome did not seem assured.
But then UVA’s best player took over. Senior point guard London Perrantes fed freshman Jay Huff for a dunk that made it 68-62 with 1:30 left. At the 1:00 mark, Perrantes scored on a drive, and then he followed his own miss with 23 seconds left to seal the victory.
The game should not have been that close. But the Cavaliers hadn’t practiced or even shot around since leaving Albacete on Saturday afternoon, and it showed.
“We looked like we came off of vacation and didn’t play a sharp game at all,” assistant coach Brad Soderberg said. “I think the bottom line is, London stepped up at the end and decided we were going to win. But this is what these trips are for. We’re getting a lot of game footage of a lot of our guys and seeing some areas that we’ve immediately got to address once we get back to official practice.
“It also gives us a chance to just see who performs well when the lights are on, so we’re getting a lot of good data that we can sort through when we get back to Charlottesville.”
Perrantes, one of three starters back from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight last season, led the Cavaliers with 14 points Tuesday. Sophomore forward Jarred Reuter contributed 13 points, and freshman guard Kyle Guy added 12.
The 6-7 Reuter, after a rough first half, asserted himself on the offensive boards after intermission.
Reuter’s tenacity on the glass was a welcome sight for the Cavaliers, “because that was something we brought up in the film session a couple days ago that he hadn’t been doing,” Soderberg said. “When he gets to the offensive glass, he’s not the tallest kid in the world, but he can carve out space and get us some extra possessions, and he did that well today.”
On a team that lost All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon, the 6-3 Guy will be expected to contribute as a freshman. On this trip he’s flashed the skills that made him a McDonald’s All-American last season at Lawrence Central High in Indianapolis.
“The coaches are happy with my aggressiveness,” Guy said. “I care if I make [a shot], but if I miss it, it’s not going to bother me. I’m going to keep shooting, keep trying to find my shot and make a play. Definitely every game I’m getting more comfortable.”
Guy also learned a valuable lesson when the game got tight Tuesday night: defer to Perrantes.
“I was very impressed with him in the last minute and a half,” Guy said. “I think I was calling for the ball and realized what he was doing, and I just shut up real quick and let him do his thing.”
Guy smiled. “London’s tremendous. He’s one of the best in the country at what he does, so I have all the respect for him.”
Perrantes said: “I just wanted to win, and when [Sant Julia] cut it down to four, I knew I had to try and take over and do some things for the team and help us get a W.”
That the `Hoos looked messy at times Tuesday was not surprising, given their lack of preparation for the game. Their overall effort, however, left much to be desired, especially on defense, and Bennett expressed his dissatisfaction during a film session late that night at the team hotel.
“We needed to come out with a lot more energy,” Wilkins said Wednesday night. “I didn’t play yesterday, but for the most part it looked to me like we were just out there going through the motions. So he challenged us to step it up and play through mistakes, play hard. As long as we’re playing hard, good things will happen.”
For the final game, Virginia rested Perrantes, Guy and redshirt sophomore Jack Salt, whose father, Simon, was in the stands cheering on his son Tuesday night.
Torrential rain pounded the gym as the opening tip approached, and power was lost briefly. The game was close for a quarter, but the Cavaliers took a 14-point lead into intermission, and the second half was no contest. By the end of the third quarter, Virginia led by 28.
Bennett said he wanted his players to understand the mindset and defensive intensity “required for us to even be in games. That’s just the price of admission, to play with a level of intensity and readiness. We didn’t even worry about the score, though it was closer for a while. It was all about that kind of energy, that kind of commitment defensively and offensively. And so I was happy that we established that.”
Sant JuliÃƒÆ’Ã†’Â ‘s resolve appeared to fade over the final 10 minutes, and Virginia’s lead steadily grew. With 3:44 left, 6-7 freshman De’Andre Hunter, the only Cavalier to play in all five games in Spain, drove for a vicious slam that made it 79-46 and brought his teammates to their feet on the bench.
With 1:28 to play, the 6-4 Thompson soared for an equally emphatic slam to punctuate the victory.
Four players scored in double figures for Virginia in the finale, led by 6-9 redshirt junior Austin Nichols (14 points). Hunter had 11, and Reuter and Shayok added 10 apiece.
Bennett, naturally, was more concerned with his team’s defense than its offense on the eve of the Cavaliers’ return to Charlottesville.
“The games themselves were just OK,” he said, “but at least we established a mindset to take us into what will be required [this season].”
Virginia 18 14 20 20 — 72
Sant Julia 19 13 13 17 — 62
UVA scoring: Perrantes 14, Reuter 13, Guy 12, Nichols 7, Hall 5, Salt 5, Huff 5, Diakite 4, Hunter 4, Jerome 3.
Virginia 19 24 23 19 — 85
Sant Julia 14 15 9 11 — 49
UVA scoring: Nichols 14, Hunter 11, Reuter 10, Shayok 10, Diakite 9, Huff 8, Jerome 7, Thompson 6, Hall 6, Wilkins 4.