In their second game back to action following a pause to the season due to coronavirus complications, the Virginia men’s basketball team clashed against top-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday.
Coming off of a dominant 76-40 victory against William & Mary Tuesday, the No. 16 Cavaliers (4-2, 0-0 ACC) appeared to be prepared heading into their matchup against the No. 1 Bulldogs (7-0, 0-0 WCC). Coming into the game, Virginia held a 1-30 all-time record against top-ranked opponents with a 1-2 record against Gonzaga dating back to the 2000-2001 season.
Despite seeking to change the narrative against top-ranked opponents and to even up their all-time record against the Bulldogs, the Cavaliers were knocked off by a score of 98-75 and were handed their second loss of the season.
“They're the best we've played by far and appear to be well deserving of that ranking,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “But if you don't take care of the ball, it's hard enough to stop them when your defense is back and set. They’ve got too many actions and skilled guys and we were fractured in that way, but when you give them points off turnovers … that puts you in a big hole.”
The starting lineup for Virginia at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas featured junior guard Kihei Clark, freshman guard Reece Beekman, senior guard Tomas Woldetensae and senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff.
The Bulldogs opened the game in stride with efficient play on both ends of the floor leading to a 7-0 lead. The Cavaliers struggled to score early, giving up three turnovers on each of their first three possessions.
Although an and-one play from Hauser trimmed the Gonzaga early lead down to 7-3, another turnover by Virginia opened the door for a Bulldogs scoring run led by senior forward Corey Kispert. A barrage of two-pointers and three-pointers allowed Gonzaga to build their lead to 18-5, resulting in Bennett calling a timeout.
The move appeared to spark the Cavaliers as the team put up a 7-0 scoring run of their own to bring the Bulldog lead down to 18-12. However, the run would be stifled by another three-pointer from Kispert followed up with an and-one play by sophomore forward Drew Timme.
Trailing 24-12, Woldetensae connected on a three-pointer to inch Virginia back into the game. A free throw from junior guard Trey Murphy a possession later would bring the score to 24-16. However, this would be the last time the Cavaliers trailed by single-digits the entire game.
A monstrous 12-0 run for Gonzaga ignited by the combination of Kispert and Timme put the Cavaliers in a deep 36-16 hole. A bucket from Clark finally ended the scoreless drought, but a quick response from Timme on the other end of the floor allowed the Bulldogs to maintain their 20-point advantage.
As the teams went back and forth down the stretch, a layup at the rim by Timme resulted in Bennett calling another timeout with Virginia trailing 42-24. As the clock ticked under four minutes in the opening half, the Cavaliers committed their ninth turnover of the game following a travel from Beekman.
“Anytime we got a little momentum, it was either a turnover or they just got an easy bucket,” Bennett said. “We haven't guarded well this year yet, and that's something we got to just keep trying to do.”
Virginia was plagued by turnovers throughout the entire game while the talented Gonzaga squad managed to make them pay on most occasions with quick buckets in transition. Despite trailing 44-24 after another Timme bucket, the Cavaliers managed to come up with another 7-0 run led by Clark and Murphy to close out the half down 44-31.
With Virginia maintaining hope heading out of the locker room for the second half, the Bulldogs still demonstrated no weaknesses in their game. The second frame was a strong one yet again for Kispert, who connected on three quick three-pointers early in the half to catapult Gonzaga to a 62-38 lead.
Following a Cavalier timeout, Huff made some noise with a slam dunk and a three-pointer to bring the game to 62-43 with under 15 minutes remaining. While Virginia continued to fight back, the Bulldogs proved to have too much firepower after freshman guard Jalen Suggs and senior guard Aaron Cook got involved on the scoring end.
Down 74-52 with under 10 minutes left in regulation, it became evident that the Gonzaga lead was too much for the Cavaliers to overcome. The squads continued to exchange buckets throughout the remainder of the game while the margin on the scoreboard remained relatively unchanged. The Bulldogs went on to clinch the win by a score of 98-75.
The game was a career night for Kispert, who scored 32 points on 11-for-15 shooting from the floor and a 9-for-13 effort from the three-point line. Kispert was closely followed by Timme, who recorded an impressive 29 points.
For Virginia, Clark led the team in scoring with 19 points followed by Murphy who posted 15 points. Gonzaga outperformed the Cavaliers in shooting – 60.3 percent to 48.1 percent, respectively.
“I don't think I played that well,” Clark said. “I had 19 points, but the six turnovers [were] no good. I think I'm just trying to find myself in the role of the team this year. I got a lot of pieces around me, so [I’m] just trying to get them going.”
The Cavaliers had 15 turnovers overall — a key statistic that they will have to cut down on going into ACC play. Virginia will next take on Notre Dame Wednesday on the road in Notre Dame, Ind. The matchup will be broadcast live on the ACC Network starting at 6 p.m.
“We lost a lot in the defensive side of things and that's some place we got to shore up and keep getting better,” Bennett said. “I know the guys, it's hard, but now we go to work.”