Ga­tors’ 21-0 run seals Cava­liers’ fate

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RO­MAN STUBBS

or­lando — Vir­ginia Coach Tony Ben­nett doesn’t often look flus­tered, es­pe­cially when it comes to the way his vaunted pack-line de­fense per­forms. But as he walked off the floor at half­time at Amway Cen­ter, his face ap­peared full of ques­tions af­ter Flor­ida closed the first half on a 12-0 run that in­cluded a wide-open dunk off a pick-and-roll to beat the buzzer.

Ben­nett briefly sought out se­nior guard Lon­don Per­rantes to ad­dress what had just tran­spired. Per­rantes looked equally per­plexed. The an­swers never came for Ben­nett or fifth-seeded Vir­ginia in a 65-39 loss, which de­nied the Cava­liers a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Sweet 16 ap­pear­ance and made their rep­u­ta­tion as the coun­try’s best de­fen­sive team a

or­lando — Here’s how bad it got for Vir­ginia — and man, it got bad — Satur­day night at Amway Cen­ter: With more than 13 min­utes re­main­ing, se­nior guard Lon­don Per­rantes went to the line for a pair of free throws that were, even with all that time left, es­sen­tially mean­ing­less. He made the first, and the score­board raised Vir­ginia’s score from 24 to 25. He made the sec­ond, and . . . noth­ing. Still 25.

That’s how hard it was for Vir­ginia to score in its switchthe-chan­nel-and-find­some­thing-else 65-39 loss to Flor­ida in the sec­ond round of the NCAA tour­na­ment. Even when the ball went through the bas­ket, the score­board op­er­a­tor ap­peared so as­ton­ished that he re­fused to be­lieve such a rare oc­cur­rence had tran­spired.

This was a game the Cava­liers might have lost had they been given a point for ev­ery time a shot hit the rim be­cause even that wasn’t guar­an­teed. What played out was just nasty, no way around it, and that’s no slight to Flor­ida, which leaves here look­ing rather dan­ger­ous. But Vir­ginia. Whew. Watch the Cava­liers de­fend, and ad­mire the way they do it. But when they take the ball across half­court, con­tinue to watch at your own peril.

Vir­ginia, at the half, had 17 points. Vir­ginia, in the end, man­aged 39, its low­est out­put of the sea­son. Vir­ginia took 15 three-point­ers and missed 14. Vir­ginia shot 29.6 per­cent from the floor.

“We were very poor of­fen­sively,” Coach Tony Ben­nett said. That’s one way to put it.

And while there’s no shame in los­ing to the fourth-seeded Ga­tors — a long, lean, ath­letic bunch that could well cause prob­lems once it ar­rives at Madi­son Square Gar­den for a Sweet 16 matchup with Wis­con­sin on Fri­day — this one can’t sit well in Charlottesville.

That’s for a cou­ple of rea­sons. First, it was just a lousy way for Per­rantes’s ca­reer to end. The Cal­i­for­nian rep­re­sents so much of what Ben­nett wants his pro­gram to be about — a com­mit­ment to de­fense, to team over self, some­one who plays with a rare com­bi­na­tion of in­tel­li­gence and tough­ness. But Per­rantes’s 138th and fi­nal game was one of his worst. He missed 10 of his 12 shots, many of which weren’t close. He com­mit­ted four turnovers, twice as many as any other player in the game. He wasn’t him­self, and when Lon­don Per­rantes isn’t him­self, it’s aw­fully hard for the Cava­liers to be the best ver­sion of them­selves.

So in the fi­nal min­utes, he sat in­stead of stood, watch­ing the last sec­onds of his ca­reer in­stead of playing them.

“A bunch of emo­tions, ob­vi­ously,” Per­rantes said. “It was over. It was over for me. I couldn’t do any­thing else to help ex­tend that, help ex­tend my sea­son, ex­tend my ca­reer. Just feel­ing like I couldn’t do any­thing any­more was kind of frus­trat­ing for me.”

Which is un­der­stand­able. But the other is­sue this game ex­posed is more over­ar­ch­ing. Vir­ginia, in its eighth sea­son un­der Ben­nett, has a clear sense of self. To love Ben­nett as a coach — and Ben­nett’s teams as an ex­ten­sion of that — you have to ap­pre­ci­ate sti­fling half-court de­fense and a me­thod­i­cal of­fense that, at its best, is run with pre­ci­sion. Ben­nett needs buy-in not only from his play­ers. He needs buy-in from his fans. The prob­lem with be­ing a Vir­ginia fan is that, even when your team plays its best, it’s not the most at­trac­tive brand of bas­ket­ball.

“There’s a gap,” Ben­nett said. “We’ve got to im­prove — our pro­gram. They ac­com­plished some stuff this year, but we’ve got to get bet­ter.”

And when it plays like it did Satur­day, it’s — well, get out the th­e­saurus and flip to “ugly” for a list of syn­onyms. We’re go­ing to need them all.

Aw­ful, grisly, grotesque, hideous, hor­rid, unattrac­tive, un­seemly and un­sightly. Yep, sounds about right.

No team in the na­tion pre­vents scor­ing bet­ter than Vir­ginia. But at times, the Cava­liers’ of­fense is so ragged, it makes it look like it’s up against its own de­fense. Mid­way through the first half, things were rel­a­tively nor­mal — 13-11 in fa­vor of the Cavs. They were fine.

“We were playing the way we needed to,” Ben­nett said.

Flor­ida is one of a slew of teams — North Carolina and UCLA come to mind — that can over­come break­downs in ex­e­cu­tion with pure ath­leti­cism and im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Vir­ginia sim­ply can’t. So the last 10 min­utes of the first half was — hmmm, which one to use? — un­sightly.

Per­rantes, oddly, was the ori­gin of much of the chaos. On con­sec­u­tive pos­ses­sions, he threw passes to — well, no one. No one at all. But even­tu­ally, all the Cava­liers con­trib­uted to the in­ept­ness. This was equal op­por­tu­nity stuff. By the time fresh­man guard Ty Jerome launched one stray three-pointer — one that did not come close to touch­ing iron, let alone ny­lon — Flor­ida had taken the lead. By the time fel­low fresh­man Kyle Guy chucked up an­other three — yes, an­other air ball — the Ga­tors were up seven.

The half­time stat sheet was grisly. Skip this part if you eas­ily get queasy. Vir­ginia made just 8 of 28 shots. Vir­ginia scored on just one of its fi­nal 12 pos­ses­sions. Vir­ginia failed to get to the free throw line even once. Vir­ginia al­lowed Flor­ida to close the half on a 20-4 run, the last of those points com­ing on a dunk by Ke­var­rius Hayes es­sen­tially as time ran out.

And then it got — don’t say it — worse. Vir­ginia’s first three pos­ses­sions of the sec­ond half: an air ball from Mar­ial Shayok, a turnover and a missed three­p­ointer from Per­rantes that did well to nom­i­nally glance off the rim. Not even 21/2 min­utes in, Flor­ida had run off nine straight points — punc­tu­ated by a pair of three-point­ers by Justin Leon. When Ben­nett looked up at the score­board, it was grisly: Flor­ida 40, Vir­ginia 17.

“I don’t know what I was think­ing,” Ben­nett said.

Last year, with Per­rantes and the since-de­parted Mal­colm Brog­don, Ben­nett and the Cava­liers reached a re­gional fi­nal, where it built a 16-point lead against Syra­cuse only to lose it. That was a tough mo­ment.

This team wasn’t as well rounded, wasn’t as deep, wasn’t as good. Still, to lose this way on this stage — ouch. Ben­nett pledged to learn from the loss, to grow as a coach. But his style is his style, and his Cava­liers are his Cava­liers. Buy­ing into that comes more eas­ily with vic­to­ries. On nights like Satur­day, when the shots aren’t fall­ing and the of­fense looks hor­ren­dous, it can be hard.

“It re­ally stings,” Ben­nett said. “It re­ally does.”


Flor­ida’s KeVaughn Allen drives on Vir­ginia, which shot 29.6 per­cent and missed 14 of 15 three -point­ers.

Barry Svr­luga

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