A collective sigh could be heard emanating from UVA’s quarter of Charlottesville this Sunday at approximately 3:00pm. A sigh caused by Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo and one second too few of Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense. And sure, a sigh for the Cavaliers’ squandered 13-point lead.
But here’s why the 12th-ranked Cavs’ loss to No. 1 Villanova isn’t the end of the world.
For one thing, Tony Bennett’s team traveled to Pennsylvania, took on the Wildcats at home, and forced the number one team to suffer its worst half of the season. The Cavs limited Villanova to 22 points, 1-for-10 on three pointers, and an abysmal 18.2% from the field in the first 20 minutes.
In fact, the only reason Villanova remained anywhere close to Bennett’s Cavaliers in the opening minutes was because of its stunning 92% free throw percentage—the team went 13 of 14 at the line in the first half alone.
While UVA’s loss to Villanova definitely pointed out areas for improvement for the Cavaliers—especially in fouls, with Virginia racking up 18 personal fouls to Villanova’s 8 and ending the game with five players in foul trouble—it also showed major promise for Bennett’s young Cavaliers.
Not only did the team force No. 1 Villanova to fight for their slot at the top of the NCAA rankings, but the Hoos did it without an offensive London Perrantes. Perrantes had a quiet 4 points in the game, offset by Marial Shayok’s 14 and Isaiah Wilkins’ 12-point contributions. The real standout of the game, though, was freshman Ty Jerome.
Thus far this season, Jerome has not been a key player for the Cavaliers. He averages 10 minutes and 3 points per game. Really, if you asked someone to choose the standout freshman on Virginia, they’d probably go for Kyle Guy or redshirt freshman Mamadi Diakite. In Virginia’s fight against the Wildcats, though, the young point guard came in huge for the Cavaliers.
Jerome played 24 minutes, scored a career-high 15 points, and posted 50% from the three-point line. An optimistic fan might write this headline for the game: “Out of a heartbreaking last-second loss, a hero emerges.”
Jerome might not have secured his spot in the hearts of UVA fans—yet—but this flash of greatness is a promising sign for the future of UVA basketball, especially as conference play continues to heat up for the Cavaliers.
So yes, had somebody put a body on Donte DiVincenzo boxing him out in that last second of playing time, had someone been there to protect against his tip-in, had the team played just that much better defense in the last second, or fouled just a little less, then maybe the Cavs would have pulled out a win.
But the truth of the matter is that they didn’t—and that’s okay.
The loss showed some of Virginia’s weaknesses, but it also showed a lot of strengths. This is a team that can hang with the number one squad in the country and—for a good 30 minutes—make them look out of place at the top of the rankings.