No. 14 West Virginia looked unbeatable in the first 17 minutes of its game against No. 10 Virginia on Tuesday night. The “Press Virginia” system forced 11 turnovers while the Mountaineers grabbed nine offensive rebunds in the first half, and made the normally calm and composed Cavaliers look flustered.
For one of the first times under Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers were simply out-executed by a fellow master tactician in Bob Huggins.
It didn’t last.
Virginia used a near-perfect second half to outlast West Virginia 70-54, as the Cavaliers ground the game to a halt defensively. The Mountaineers only scored two field goals in the first 13 minutes and 30 seconds of the second half, which made them unable to set up the press that caused issues in the first half. Anthony Gill was the key for Virginia, scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, but it was truly a team effort to turn things around.
This was a bad matchup coming in for the Mountaineers on the offensive end as a team so reliant on driving to the paint against a packline defense, but I’m not sure they even expected what was waiting for them in the second half. The Cavaliers just simply walled off the paint. The guards could barely get a foot into the painted area, as the Mountaineers only attempted eight shots at the rim in the second half and matched Virginia’s turnover total from the first half with 11.
That defensive efficiency also helped the Cavaliers’ transition into offense. They shot a scorching 74 percent in the second half as they went on a 47-19 run to end the game. It was a ridiculously impressive performance from a Virginia team that has been a bit maligned on the offensive end this season following its loss to George Washington. Malcolm Brogdon and Gill were great, but London Perrantes and Darius Thompson also played well in the second half. Isaiah Wilkins scored six in the second. If they can get more production from those three pieces, this offense should allow Virginia to beat anyone on any given night.
Overall, there’s not a great deal to take away from this matchup of two good teams. Each squad looked unimpressive for one half and fabulous for another. But Virginia’s best was simply better than West Virginia’s best, and the Cavaliers come away with a really solid résumé builder that should help it later in the season.