Cava­liers go into a sea­son-end­ing freeze in Florida

The Washington Post Sunday - - NCAA TOUR­NA­MENT - Ro­man.stubbs@wash­

star­tling af­ter­thought.

A tight, low-scor­ing af­fair was ex­pected Sat­ur­day night — Ben­nett pre­dicted a smash-mouth con­test be­cause Florida also en­tered this game with one of the na­tion’s most pro­duc­tive de­fen­sive teams — but the Ga­tors, un­like the Cava­liers, also had the of­fense to match.

“I don’t even know what was go­ing through my mind. A bunch of emo­tions, ob­vi­ously,” Per­rantes said. “It was over. It was over for me. I couldn’t do any­thing else to help me ex­tend my sea­son or my ca­reer.”

Florida (26-8), which shot 46 per­cent from the field, ad­vanced to face No. 8 seed Wis­con­sin in the East Re­gion semi­fi­nals in New York. The Badgers up­set top-seeded Vil­lanova, 65-62, in Buf­falo ear­lier Sat­ur­day. It would have pro­vided in­trigu­ing fod­der had Vir­ginia ad­vanced to meet Wis­con­sin, the place Ben­nett started his col­lege coach­ing ca­reer as an as­sis­tant. But that prospect fiz­zled be­hind a 21-0 Florida run that bridged the end of the first half and early into the sec­ond.

“You saw a re­ally good de­fen­sive team play against a team that was re­ally strug­gling of­fen­sively,” Ben­nett said. “The thing that was frus­trat­ing was we re­ally ac­com­plished a lot this year. And then to end that way is what ob­vi­ously re­ally stings. It re­ally does.”

Vir­ginia (23-11) strug­gled to con­tain the length and ath­leti­cism of 6-foot-9 for­wards Devon Robin­son and Justin Leon, who com­bined for 28 points and 21 re­bounds and helped spark the cru­cial run to close the first half with Florida up 31-17.

Af­ter Vir­ginia had pulled within 19-17 on a layup by guard Dar­ius Thomp­son with 5:10 re­main­ing in the first half, Leon re­sponded with eight straight points, flash­ing his in­side-out ver­sa­til­ity with a fin­ish at the rim that led to a three-point play and an­other three-pointer off a pick and roll that Vir­ginia couldn’t cover.

Florida cen­ter Ke­var­rius Hayes fin­ished off the burst with two bas­kets of his own, in­clud­ing a dunk off an­other poor Vir­ginia ro­ta­tion with two sec­onds re­main­ing be­fore half­time.

The 17 points marked the low­est half­time out­put by Vir­ginia this sea­son. The de­fen­sive strug­gles were com­pounded by the Cava­liers’ own of­fen­sive short­com­ings. Vir­ginia shot just 30 per­cent from the field, in­clud­ing 1 for 15 from three-point range.

“Their length and quick­ness got to us a lit­tle bit,” Vir­ginia cen­ter Jack Salt said.

Ben­nett didn’t have the lux­ury to go to a five-guard lineup like he did in the Cava­liers’ first-round win over UNC Wilm­ing­ton. He sim­ply couldn’t af­ford to take his team’s size off the court against the moun­tain­ous Ga­tors. But that led to lit­tle scor­ing pro­duc­tion, and it was com­pounded by pu­trid out­side shoot­ing.

Vir­ginia shot just 8 for 28 from the field in the first 20 min­utes, in­clud­ing just 1 for 7 from three­p­oint range. Af­ter Thomp­son’s bas­ket cut the deficit to two with just over five min­utes re­main­ing be­fore half­time, Vir­ginia didn’t score again un­til re­serve for­ward Ma­madi Di­akite con­verted a layup with 17:15 re­main­ing in the sec­ond half. Florida led 40-19 at that point and was never threat­ened.

“If we’re not shoot­ing well, it’s hard for us be­cause we don’t score a whole lot in the post. And they’re po­tent,” Ben­nett said.

Per­rantes had tried to spark an­other run to per­haps pro­long his col­lege ca­reer for an­other week, but he went just 2 for 12 from the field and fin­ished with six points. Ben­nett fi­nally pulled Per­rantes with 4:15 re­main­ing. Per­rantes just sat with his hands clasped un­til the fi­nal buzzer rang.

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