By Jeff White (email@example.com)
NEW YORK — The priorities for the University of Virginia men’s basketball team Thursday — during daylight hours — will be sleep, rest and hydration.
At night, the Cavaliers will get back to the work at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, site of the ACC tournament. At approximately 9:30 p.m., No. 6 seed Virginia (22-9) will take on No. 3 seed Notre Dame (23-8) in Thursday’s final quarterfinal.
This is the first time in point guard London Perrantes’ four seasons that UVA did not enter the tournament as a top-4 seed and thus earn a double-bye. So to capture the ACC tourney for the first time since 2014, Perrantes’ freshman season, the Wahoos will have to win four games in four nights.
“It’s a grind, for sure,” Perrantes said, but Virginia took the first step Wednesday night.
The Cavaliers’ opener in Brooklyn didn’t tip off until 9:50 p.m., but the late start didn’t bother them, as they defeated Pittsburgh for the second time in five days.
In the regular-season finale Saturday at John Paul Jones Arena, the `Hoos handled the Panthers 67-42. The teams’ postseason meeting was tighter, but the Cavaliers led for the final 36:42 in a 75-63 win over No. 14 seed Pitt.
The outcome delighted the thousands of Virginia fans who flocked to the Brooklyn Nets’ arena, where they outnumbered their Pitt counterparts by a huge margin.
“UVA’s crowd travels well, so we had a great boost there,” junior forward Isaiah Wilkins said. “It was just a good win for us.”
No. 22 Notre Dame figures to pose a greater challenge for the No. 21 Cavaliers. The Fighting Irish, though, have struggled against UVA.
Since joining the ACC in 2013-14, Notre Dame has defeated every team in the conference except one: Virginia. In a series that dates to 1980-81, the `Hoos are 10-1 against the Irish and have won 10 straight.
In their most recent meeting, Jan. 24 in South Bend, UVA defeated Notre Dame 71-54. Rest assured, the Irish are tired of hearing about how they can’t beat Virginia.
“They’ll definitely be ready,” UVA freshman guard Ty Jerome said, “and we’re ready, so it should be a good one.”
Back in his home state of Indiana, Virginia freshman Kyle Guy scored only five points in that Jan. 24 game, missing 5 of 7 shots from the floor. But the 6-3 guard showed throughout the regular season that he’s a big-time shooter, and he dazzled Wednesday night.
Guy hit 4 of 6 shots from beyond the arc and scored 20 points — his high against an ACC opponent — to help assure the Cavaliers of finishing with at least 22 victories for a program-record sixth straight season. Guy scored eight points in the first five minutes as the `Hoos built a lead they never relinquished.
“That’s kind of what we expect from him,” Jerome said. “That’s what he does, and he did it tonight.”
The 6-5 Jerome, who’s from nearby New Rochelle, also sparkled against Pitt (16-17). He totaled 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes off the bench.
“It was real exciting,” Jerome said of his first ACC tournament game. “Glad we grinded it out, and we gotta get ready for the next one.”
Perrantes, who improved his career record in the ACC tourney to 7-2, was the other Cavalier who scored in double figures Wednesday night. He finished with 15 points, most of which came during a pivotal second-half stretch.
After the Panthers cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 44-43, Perrantes scored 10 of his team’s next 15 points.
“London made some big shots,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said. “He’s done that for us his whole career, and we needed that.”
Perrantes is “just a winning player,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “He does what’s needed to win games.
“Those guys do a great job of buying in to what Tony’s selling and how they have to play at Virginia to be successful. It starts with Perrantes. He’s the senior. He’s the leader. He’s the guy that sort of stirs the drink for them.”
Another leader is Wilkins, who’s been slowed by illness in recent weeks. He started Wednesday night for the first time since Feb. 27 and totaled eight points and a game-high eight rebounds in 23 minutes. His conditioning isn’t great, and Wilkins labored noticeably at times against Pitt, but he persevered.
“Before the game [the coaches] asked me if I wanted to start,” Wilkins said, “and I said, `Yeah, yeah, I can start. Let’s do that.’ ”
He paused for effect.
“I don’t think I want to do that again for a while,” Wilkins said, smiling. “I was dying after the first five minutes, and then we did it in spurts. I got a second wind late in the second half and was able to go till about the five-minute mark and subbed out and then came back in.
“I’m just trying to get out there and give what I can.”
Virginia’s other starting post player, center Jack Salt, had a memorable game, too, turning in a crowd-pleasing performance highlighted by a play midway through the second half. After a missed jumper by UVA guard Marial Shayok, Salt dived to save the ball near the baseline. He leapt parallel to the court and threw the ball back in bounds. It went off a Pitt player and out to Virginia.
“I knew it was off one of our guys, so I just tried to chuck it behind me,” Salt said, “and luckily there was a Pitt dude there, and he fumbled it, so I was pretty lucky to be honest.”
On the possession that followed, Guy buried a 3-pointer that pushed Virginia’s leading to 49-44.
“Big play,” Bennett said of Salt’s save. “He didn’t look like he had a chance at it. We had a couple of those plays, but those are momentum-changers. I tell our guys, it’s about the heart. At this level, every possession matters, and that one mattered. I didn’t think he had a chance at it.”
Late in the game, as the Panthers tried to rally, they played the percentages and fouled Salt, sending him to the line for a one-and-one. He entered the game having made only 48.7 percent of his free throws, but he went 2 for 2 on this trip. When Salt left the game 15 seconds later, his teammates on the bench greeted him with huge smiles, and their reaction mirrored his.
“Everyone was just pretty happy,” said Salt, a 6-11 redshirt sophomore from New Zealand. “I don’t usually make two in a row, so it was a good feeling to make both of them.”
Salt’s final line was modest — four points and two rebounds in 13 minutes — but his numbers often belie his value to the team.
“He’s such a warrior,” Bennett said. “He’ll screen, he’ll rebound. He doesn’t care if he takes a shot or not.”
Virginia heads into its ACC quarterfinal on a four-game winning streak. The Cavaliers’ trademark Pack-Line defense has been tough for opponents to crack during this run, but it will be tested Thursday night.
Notre Dame comes in averaging 78.5 points per game. Four players average at least 13.5 points for the Irish, led by 6-5, 225-pound junior Bonzie Colson (17.0), a first-team All-ACC selection.
“They’re really a high-powered team offensively, and they’ve got guys 1 through 5 that can play,” UVA redshirt junior guard Devon Hall said. “It’s just a matter of us being able to keep them in front of us and get hands in shooters’ [faces]. They’re playing at a high level with high-motor guys.”
Much like Pitt, Notre Dame will look to spread the floor on offense. Seven Irish players have made at least 17 treys apiece this season.
“We just gotta hang our hat on our defense like we always do,” Perrantes said, “and I know we’ll be OK.”
His first three ACC tournaments taught Perrantes valuable lessons, and he’s applying them this week in New York.
“I just know that it’s going to be a grind,” Perrantes said. “I just try and get as much rest as I can in between games, eat right, just take care of my body. Just trying to get all these guys on the same page. I’m also trying to have as much fun as I can in my last one.”
It was past midnight when the Cavaliers arrived back at their Manhattan hotel after the game. For Wilkins, who’s trying to regain the strength he lost during his illness, the quick turnaround between games is less than ideal. But he knows what he has to do Thursday.
“Sleep,” Wilkins said. “Drink a lot of water. Just try to get some type of energy back, because it’s going to be a big one [against Notre Dame]. But I’ll get up to play. It’s tournament time.”