Given how they have been playing for the last 12 games and how the Virginia Cavaliers have been focused only on the next game in front of them, you really didn’t expect a letdown Wednesday night from a Virginia team that could have been looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with the Syracuse Orange, did you? No, this Virginia team is far better than that. After committing a few turnovers but taking a seven-point lead (27-20) to halftime against Miami in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers demolished the Hurricanes 38-20 in the second half to win, 65-40.
Virginia (24-5, 15-1 ACC) has now set up its game Saturday (4 p.m.) as a battle for the ACC regular season title. If the Cavaliers beat Syracuse (26-2, 13-2), UVA will win the outright ACC title for only the second time in its history, and first since 1981. Syracuse could tie Virginia for the conference lead with a win, and would hold the tiebreaker since this will be the schools’ only meeting this regular season. If the Cavaliers were looking ahead to such matters, it didn’t look much like it on Wednesday.
It probably helped that Virginia got to face a struggling Miami team. The Hurricanes fell to 14-14, 5-10 with the loss, a long way from a year ago when they won both the ACC regular season and tournament titles. Virginia held Miami to an embarrassing 26 percent from the field, including 0-for-12 from three-point range. Offensively, the Cavaliers, who are usually led by Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon, did get 15 points from the latter, but freshman point guard London Perrantes scored 15 as well. Perrantes was a picture of Virginia’s offensive efficiency, both tonight and for most of the season. He didn’t miss a shot all night (from the field or the line), had four assists, and only one turnover. After five rather quick turnovers in the first half, Virginia finished with a total of only 10. Erik Swoope led Miami with 13 points.
The only possible downfall for Virginia on this night was a TV shot that showed Brogdon getting a finger looked at on the bench by a trainer late in the game. Brogdon played most of the game and had his typical night with 15 points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists. The Cavaliers will need him at 100 percent in order to beat Syracuse on Saturday. In fact, Virginia will need both its offense and defense running on all cylinders to defeat an Orange team that has seen far more of these big late-season games traditionally than the Cavaliers have. Defense will be the name of the game, as UVA is first in the country in points allowed per game, while Syracuse is seventh.
Miami really didn’t stand a chance Wednesday night and were fortunate to get some free throws late to even get to 40 points. Virginia can play better and you get the feeling that they will on a national stage on Saturday. But it’s a sign of the maturity and focus of this bunch of Cavaliers that they didn’t get caught looking ahead, and head coach Tony Bennett was able to keep their minds on the task at hand so that Virginia could blow out Miami and set up the Cavaliers’ biggest home game in 33 years.