No. 12 Virginia faces No. 1 Villanova on the road
Cavaliers look to hand Wildcats another upset
The No. 12 Virginia men’s basketball team travels to Philadelphia, Pa. Sunday looking to hand No. 1 Villanova its second-consecutive loss.
The Cavaliers (16-3, 6-2 ACC) are on a five-game winning streak after coming off a decisive 71-54 win against No. 14 Notre Dame. Despite a close first half, the Cavaliers went on a 17-5 run to pull away in the second half and secure the victory.
Virginia’s pack line defense held the Fighting Irish to their lowest point total of the season and forced the team to shoot three of 18 beyond the arc.
Senior guard London Perrantes led the team with 22 points. Three other Cavaliers scored in double digits — junior guard Marial Shayok with 10, junior forward Isaiah Wilkins with 13 and junior guard Devon Hall with 11. Wilkins and Hall also grabbed nine rebounds apiece.
Freshman guard Ty Jerome contributed efficient minutes to the victory, scoring eight points in just 14 minutes.
“The guys stepping up — you just have to have that,” coach Tony Bennett said. “Marial kept us going with some nice buckets, Devon rebounded and Isaiah shot the free throws well. But to get that [performance] from Ty was significant, and he’s been showing that in practice.”
However, Virginia will need another strong offensive effort in order to secure a win against the defending national champions.
The Wildcats (19-2, 7-2 Big East) will likely drop from its top rank after its most recent loss to unranked Marquette in which Villanova blew a 15 point halftime lead in the loss. The Wildcats struggled offensively and settled for threes, but sank only four of 22 attempts from downtown in the second half. Marquette took its first lead with 46.9 seconds to play, and the Wildcats were never able to regain it.
In order to succeed against Villanova, Virginia must lock down the Wildcats’ National Player of the Year candidate, senior guard Josh Hart. Averaging 19 points on a 53.6 field goal percentage and 6.6 rebounds per game, Hart is an efficient presence on both ends of the court.
In the loss to Marquette, Hart sat all but four minutes of the first half due to foul trouble, but he still put up 16 points on six of 10 shooting. However, in Villanova’s only other loss — to No. 18 Butler three weeks ago — Hart struggled offensively, going three of 11 from the field.
Other Wildcats to watch out for include sophomore guard Jalen Brunson, senior forward Kris Jenkins and sophomore guard Mikal Bridges, who are all averaging double digits in points per game.
In the loss against Marquette, Brunson kept Villanova ahead in the first half, scoring 15 of his game total 19 points. Bridges, who went into the game averaging under 10 points, had a break-out performance with a career high 20 of points. However, Jenkins struggled, missing all six three-point attempts and failing to score a field goal all game.
The Wildcats average 78 points per game, but going into the week, the Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 53.2 points a game.
Offensively, the Cavaliers have begun to find their rhythm. Despite getting off to a slow start this season, Perrantes has scored over 20 points in three of the last five games and is now averaging 12.3 points per game.
Other Virginia role players have increasingly stepped up during the team’s recent win streak. Shayok had a career-best 19 points versus Georgia Tech and added 17 points each in big wins against Clemson and Wake Forest.
Bennett has placed Shayok in the starting rotation in the past few games.
“Coach called my name recently, so I just got to be ready to step up, and I just owe it to [my team] to be ready,” Shayok said.
Both Hall and freshman guard Kyle Guy are offensive threats as well, each averaging 8.2 points a game. With his strong performance against Notre Dame, Jerome may begin to see increasing minutes as well.
Virginia and Villanova faced off last year at John Paul Jones Arena, where the Cavaliers bested the Wildcats 86-75. However, Villanova went on to claim the NCAA Championship.
This year’s matchup will no doubt be a tough one for Virginia, but if the Cavaliers can continue their offensive momentum and maintain defensive pressure on Villanova’s key players, an upset may be in the cards.
“Now we get a chance to go against a terrific team,” Bennett said after Virginia’s last game. “We’ll have to show up and play.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in Philadelphia, Pa.