By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BERKELEY, Calif. — A couple of them remained in the Bay Area with their families. The rest headed to San Francisco International Airport, from which they scattered around the country.
Whatever their destinations, members of the University of Virginia men’s basketball team left Haas Pavilion filled with holiday cheer Wednesday night.
A date with No. 10 Louisville, which defeated No. 6 Kentucky on Wednesday, awaits No. 12 UVA (10-1), and preparations for that ACC clash will begin in earnest Sunday when the team reconvenes at John Paul Jones Arena. First, though, the Cavaliers made sure to celebrate a hard-earned triumph in an arena where opponents rarely prevail.
“We talk about fighting every single day,” point guard London Perrantes said late Wednesday night after Virginia’s 56-52 win over California. “We came out and we just gutted that win out.”
The Golden Bears (9-3) had won 27 straight games at Haas Pavilion before UVA’s visit.
“Home-court advantage is huge,” Perrantes said, “and to be able to pick up a road win like this is huge, right before conference [play begins].
“It’s a gauntlet from here. There’s no stopping. We’ve got to keep flowing, keep going, keep pushing.”
Perrantes, a senior, had a sizable cheering section at the game, including his family and the varsity, JV and freshman basketball teams from Crespi Carmelite, the Los Angeles high school from which he graduated.
Virginia center Jack Salt, who’s from New Zealand, also had his family at the game. But the Perrantes and Salt contingents weren’t the only ones cheering for the `Hoos. UVA alumni from the Bay Area turned out in force for the game, including Evan Nolte, a four-year letterman under head coach Tony Bennett, and their chants at times drowned out those of the Golden Bears’ supporters.
“I actually did hear that,” Bennett said. “I usually don’t, but that was pretty sweet.”
Perrantes said: “It was big-time. It shows we’ve got a fan base everywhere. UVA travels, and we needed all of it.”
At the end of an opening half in which neither team shot well, the score was 22-22. Nearly 19 minutes into the second half, it was 49-49, and the outcome could have gone either way.
In such situations last season, the `Hoos typically would turn to All-America guard Malcolm Brogdon, but he’s now playing for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.
With Brogdon gone, Virginia had questions that needed to be answered, Bennett said. “Who’s going to make the play? Who’s going to make the big shot? And to see a few of those things happen [against Cal] was nice.”
“Finally, right?” Wilkins said of his lone field goal in seven attempts.
Fouled on the shot, Wilkins then completed the three-point play, and after a defensive stop by Virginia, freshman big man Mamadi Diakite hit a long jump shot to make it 54-49.
“It was the right time for me to let it go,” Diakite said, “so I did the right thing, and it went in.”
Cal answered with a 3-pointer by senior guard Jabari Bird to make it a one-possession game. But Guy calmly sank both ends of a one-and-one with 15.9 seconds left, and after one final defensive stop, the Cavaliers walked away with a satisfying victory.
“It was a good step,” Bennett said.
Like Cal, Virginia is a “work in progress, “Bennett said. “We both have lost some key, key guys from last year’s squads. And so we’re still evolving and kind of forging our way with our identities. So it was good for us to [come in and win].”
Playing in a hostile environment “reveals a lot,” Bennett said. “Hopefully it brings out some of the good stuff. It brought out some weaknesses and holes, of course, but it brought out some plays being made by some of the young guys, and guys just hanging tough, making some free throws, getting key stops.”
Of the Cavaliers’ upperclassmen, only Perrantes played well throughout the game. He scored Virginia’s first nine points and finished with 14. But redshirt juniors Devon Hall (team-high six rebounds) and Darius Thompson (game-high five assists) stepped forward in the second half, and Wilkins’ three-point play was instrumental in the victory.
Virginia will face greater challenges in in the ACC, but it was “a big win,” Bennett said, “and hopefully we saw some guys grow up.”
In the final minutes, Bennett employed a traditional lineup with two big men (the 6-9 Diakite and the 6-7 Wilkins), a strategy that paid off.
“I think Christmas came early for me, so I’ll give thanks for that, for sure,” Bennett said, smiling.
For much of the second half, the `Hoos played four guards together. After a first half in which his team shot only 32.3 percent from the floor, Bennett decided to try another approach.
“Our defense kept us in there,” Bennett said, “but we were pretty shaky, and so we thought we’d open up the court a little bit, look at a four-guard lineup … Not that we set the scoreboard on fire, but we opened up the court, we attacked, got some rhythm shots and ball screens, and I thought it was necessary. ”
The 6-3 Guy capitalized on his opportunity. He had some defensive lapses, but his play at the other end of the court proved decisive. He made 5 of 7 shots in the second half, including two treys, and finished with a game-high 17 points in 29 minutes off the bench.
Seven of those points came in a 97-second stretch of the second half.
After seeing him pass up several shots in the first half, Guy said, associate head coach Ron Sanchez “was like, `You just need to be aggressive.’ ”
Guy smiled. “Say no more.”
For the season, Guy is shooting 60 percent from 3-point range and 78.9 percent from the line.
“I’ve got the utmost faith in his jump shot,” Perrantes said.
After the Bears closed to 54-52 on Bird’s fourth and final 3-pointer, Virginia knew they would be forced to foul. And so Perrantes suggested that Bennett draw up an inbounds play on which the ball went to Guy, “because I knew he was going to knock the free throws down,” Perrantes said.
“He’s such a pure shooter. He’s a good player, and everybody I think has a lot of faith in him at the offensive end.”
Virginia survived a scoring drought that would have done in many teams. After a Perrantes 3-pointer put the Cavaliers ahead 40-31 with 12:27 remaining, they were shut out for more than six minutes.
Finally, Guy’s catch-and-shoot jumper at the 6:01 mark ended Cal’s 10-0 run and put the `Hoos up 42-41.
“We were laboring to score,” Bennett said, “and you need someone who can stretch the defense and manufacture his own [shot], maybe, when he’s guarded. And that’s been lacking, so it was good to see that.”
Guy, who’s from Indianapolis, said he’s long enjoyed playing on the road. So the jeers from Cal fans sitting courtside did not faze him.
“I love it,” he said. “I love when people are screaming, `I hate your hair,’ and all that kind of stuff. It gets me fired up.”
Next up for Guy is his first ACC game, Wednesday night in the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville.
Heading into the ACC opener, the victory over Cal “helps tremendously,” Guy said, “because this is a hard place to play and a hard place to win, and we came in and fought for it, so that’s going to help us a lot down the road. And it’s going to be good to go to Louisville. That’s close to home, about 90 minutes, so I’ll have a lot of people there.”