FLORIDA 65, VIRGINIA 39
Gators’ 21-0 run seals Cavaliers’ fate
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.