By Jeff White (email@example.com)
BERKELEY, Calif. — Inside Haas Pavilion and then later on the team bus, University of Virginia men’s basketball players stared at their phones Tuesday night and marveled again and again at the videos of Malcolm Brogdon’s dunks — one over Kyrie Irving and another over LeBron James.
“He was sitting on this bus last year, and now he’s dunking on Bron!” one Cavalier exclaimed.
Brogdon was an All-American guard on the UVA team that rallied to defeat the California Golden Bears in overtime last season at John Paul Jones Arena. He’s now a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks, who on Wednesday will face the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight night.
That game starts at 7 p.m. Eastern. Later that night comes another rematch, this one featuring Brogdon’s college team. At 10 p.m. Eastern, 12th-ranked Virginia (9-1) takes on Cal (9-2) at Haas Pavilion in a game ESPN2 will televise.
The Bears have won a program-record 27 straight games at their historic arena, which seats 11,858.
“They play real hard. They’re physical, and their record at home stands out,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “They’re hard to beat here, so to come in and get one you have to really play. I told our guys to be ready, because this is a hostile environment.”
The Wahoos arrived in California on Monday afternoon and practiced at Haas Pavilion that night. Memories came flooding back to Bennett when he walked into the gym.
Before taking the UVA job in the spring of 2009, he spent six seasons as Washington State: three as an assistant under his father, Dick Bennett, and then three as head coach.
“We had some wars in here against really good teams,” Bennett recalled. “This is a real loud arena. The seats are just straight up.”
In each of his six seasons at Wazzu, the Cougars played a home-and-home series with Cal. Dick Bennett’s teams were 1-2 against Cal in Berkeley, and his son’s were 2-1.
As he watched his players shoot free throws at the end of practice Monday night, Bennett said, “I was sitting back and I just thought to myself, `It’s amazing the things that have happened in my coaching career, from my time at Washington State.’ I feel very thankful and blessed to have experienced what I have.”
For the Cavaliers, this will be their first road game in nearly six weeks — and only their second of the season.
The first was at the Greensboro Coliseum, where the crowd on Nov. 11 included a large, loud contingent of UVA fans. For three Virginia players — freshmen Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome and redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite — a new chapter of their college basketball careers will begin Wednesday night.
Senior point guard London Perrantes is confident the freshmen will handle themselves well in the less-welcoming atmosphere inside Haas Pavilion.
“We’re as prepared as we can be,” Perrantes said. “As much as I can say stuff to them, they’re not going to really know how it feels until they start playing. Basically they just need to go out there and play the way they’ve been playing, just go out and have fun, really. If you’re playing in front of crowds like this, it means you’re doing something right.”
They may not drown out Cal supporters, but UVA fans will make themselves heard at Haas Pavilion. For Perrantes, who’s from Los Angeles, and redshirt sophomore center Jack Salt, who’s from New Zealand, this is something of a homecoming game, and their families will be at the game Wednesday night.
“That’s as close as we can get for Jack, unless we take a foreign tour,” Bennett said.
Salt said: “I haven’t seen them for maybe eight months, so I’m really looking forward to seeing my family.”
Relatives won’t be the only ones cheering for the Cavaliers. Perrantes starred at Crespi Carmelite High, and the all-boys school’s varsity, JV and freshman teams will be at Haas Pavilion, too.
Perrantes’ brother Isaiah plays for the Crespi varsity. All three Crespi teams have games against Bishop O’Dowd in Oakland on Thursday, and Perrantes will switch from player to fan when his holiday break begins. His immediate focus, though, is on the Cal game.
“I’m just excited to play on the West Coast,” Perrantes said. “It’s been a while.”
His mother is a former San Francisco resident, Perrantes said, and he’s spent a lot of time in the Bay Area.
“It’s obviously not home, but it’s kind of familiar,” he said.
In Charlottesville last year, Perrantes played a decisive role in the Cavaliers’ dramatic win over the Bears. His 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in overtime gave UVA its first lead and proved to be the game-winner.
“We played terrible for about 35 minutes of the game,” Perrantes recalled, “and then kind of started playing well the last five minutes of regulation, and then overtime.”
One of the stars of that Cal team, swingman Jaylen Brown, is now a rookie with the Boston Celtics. But the Bears are still loaded with talent, including Ivan Rabb, a projected lottery pick in the next NBA draft.
A 6-11, 220-pound sophomore, Rabb averages 15.2 points and 8.9 rebounds.
“He’s a special player,” Bennett said.
Cal’s other weapons include 6-6 senior Jabari Bird (15.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and 5-11 freshman Charlie Moore (16.9 ppg). Moore leads the Bears with 35 assists but also has a team-high 35 turnovers.
“He’s pretty crafty,” Perrantes said. “He can shoot the ball. He’s fast. So I’m excited to play him.”
Virginia leads the nation in scoring defense, having allowed an average of 46.7 points per game. Opponents are shooting only 33.9 percent from the floor against the `Hoos.
After two intense practices at Haas Pavilion, UVA knows well the formula for knocking off the Bears again.
“You gotta have an edge defensively,” Bennett told his players. “You gotta outlast `em.”
Not often does a college team have as much time to prepare for a game as the `Hoos have had for this one. By the time they arrive at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night, they’ll have held two practices and a shootaround in the Bears’ arena.
“It’s something different,” Perrantes said, “but it’s just another game. We’ve just got to come out here and be ready for a raucous crowd, obviously, and just play our game.”