​ELDER: Team basketball driving Virginia’s win streak

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Coach Tony Bennett has used the same starting five in three straight games. In that stretch, the Cavaliers have not allowed an opponent to score above 50 points.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

At tipoff, No. 9 Virginia was just a two-point favorite against Pittsburgh. Playing on the road — in front of the Oakland Zoo, no less — against a team that received votes in last week’s AP poll, the prediction seemed about right. And, after all, it was only 11 days since the Cavaliers needed a miracle to win at Wake Forest.

By all measures, Virginia was supposed to have its hands full.

And if Las Vegas had known senior forward Anthony Gill — who had scored in double figures in 24-consecutive games — would only drop four points Saturday, the Panthers might have been favorites.

A couple of weeks ago, they certainly would have. But not anymore.

When senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, dubbed Humble-Moses by his teammates, flexed following his one-handed slam in the first half, his message was loud and clear — vintage Tony Bennett basketball is back.

Virginia extended its win streak to six games after taking down Pittsburgh, 64-50. Most importantly, the Cavaliers did it with team basketball.

Brogdon scored 21 points – including 14 in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting – and junior guard London Perrantes drained 4-of-5 treys to add 14 points.

Those performances certainly kept Virginia alive in the first half, as the scrappy Panthers clawed their way to just a 29-27 deficit after falling behind by as many as eight in the opening stanza.

When the Cavaliers truly made their run, however, it was far from a one-man show.

After Pittsburgh junior forward Sheldon Jeter hit a jumper to tie the game at 31 with 18:52 remaining, Virginia went on one of its signature second-half runs, which defined the Cavaliers in their two previous ACC regular season championship seasons.

Twelve points over the next four possessions gave Virginia a 43-31 advantage with just 15:52 to play. Ignited by threes from Brogdon, Perrantes and sophomore guard Devon Hall and Hall’s and-one lay-up, the Cavaliers looked as if they were playing against Morgan State all over again.

Gill, sophomore forward Isaiah Wilkins and sophomore guard Marial Shayok all added baskets before everything was said and done. The lead grew to as large as 19 with 6:30 to play, and for the third consecutive conference game, the walk-ons saw action.

Brogdon, Perrantes and Gill are unquestionably Virginia’s big-three, but they can’t win games on their own. Cavalier fans witnessed this against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State. But when those three have help, like they did Saturday, Virginia is one of the top teams in the nation.

Bennett has used the same starting lineup now in three consecutive games, and it’s one that seems like it will stick. In addition to Brogdon, Perrantes and Gill, Virginia has inserted Hall and Wilkins, both of whom have opened up the floor for the Cavaliers.

Hall adds a third, even-keeled ball handler to a lineup. Unlike sophomore guard Darius Thompson, who started as the third guard in early season contests, Hall’s shooting ability makes him a perimeter threat as evidenced by his 38 percent stroke from beyond the arc. Additionally, his length makes him a threat in the paint, whether driving to the hoop or on the glass.

Wilkins, meanwhile, might not light up the scoring column — after just four points against the Panthers, his career high remains at 10 — but his hustle and vision makes the others around him better. The Georgia-native had a career high five assists Saturday in addition to his team-high seven rebounds.

Even without Gill on the floor, this starting five was as lethal as ever against Pittsburgh. For that matter, regardless of who was on the floor Saturday, Virginia looked dominant.

Shayok showed his authority with several strong drives to the basket, resulting in eight points. Senior forward Evan Nolte played with confidence, hitting a three and blocking a shot. Even Thompson, who was held scoreless, dished out two assists, including a nice one to Shayok in transition.

Virginia scored 20 points off of turnovers compared to just six for its opponent. That is no accident.

In the past three games, the Cavaliers have played as good of basketball as ever over the past two-and-a-half seasons. In that stretch, no opponent has scored more than 50 points. Bennett has to like this.

As Virginia’s rotation has become more and more settled, the team has become more and more dangerous. With a subpar game from Gill, Virginia has shown its roster is as deep as ever.

Brogdon has to flex to that.

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