The saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas. Unfortunately, that’s been true for the Virginia basketball program on its last two trips to the Lone Star State. The Cavaliers lost to No. 1 Gonzaga in Forth Worth last season 98-75 and their trip to No. 15 Houston on Tuesday night didn’t go much better as the Hoos sputtered to a 67-47 loss. Of the last 16 losses for the program, both of those games in Texas rank among the five biggest losing margins.
UVA coach Tony Bennett said that this year’s team would have to take lessons from the lopsided loss early in the season and work to improve.
“We talked about some things, maybe patterns we’ve seen in practice that exposed some of these things,” Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “I said I know y’all tried as hard as you could, now let’s regroup and let’s become a better team from this experience and respond. Again, we had a choice to come here and play in the spring. We thought it was going to be a really tough, physical game for us to find out and grow. Well, we found out. Now we’ve got to address some things and then hopefully become tougher, better, and more experienced and keep trying to find what guys can be out there playing. I think everybody’s going to get their chances, we’ve got to figuring out who are the best players to help us be successful.”
Two lessons readily available from this game: turnovers and poor shooting is not a winning recipe. The Cavaliers committed 17 turnovers and missed 28 shots during the 20-point loss. Those turnovers cropped up early and never really subsided. Virginia had 6 turnovers in the first 8 minutes that led to 11 points for Houston. By the end of the game, Houston had 16 points off of UVA miscues.
Then even when the Hoos held on to the ball, they had issues generating good offense. The Cougars smothered the cuts off of screens, swallowed up anyone trying to get near the rim, and bothered ball screens too. Really, they disrupted anything and everything. That contributed to a 34.9% shooting night (15-43) that included a 21.1% performance (4-19) from 3-point range. UVA missed 8 free throws too.
Armaan Franklin led the visitors with 11 points on 3-7 shooting, though he did go 0-4 from 3-point range. He had 2 rebounds and 3 turnovers. Kadin Shedrick and Kody Stattmann added 12 points combined on 2-4 and 3-5 shooting respectively. Shedrick finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots, while Stattmann had 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover.
Kihei Clark chipped in 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, but he had 4 turnovers. Reece Beekman added 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 4 turnovers. Jayden Gardner struggled to score with 4 points, 2 rebounds and 3 turnovers as part of his final line.
“They’re so quick, they can beat your screens. They can guard you one on one,” Bennett said. “We don’t have a lot … of guys that can create their own shot. Reece is pretty good with the ball and he got a little rattled with it and they took it away from him. It was hard to even get to the basket or get a clean look so we tried to move, screen them, tried to open the floor, tried a few things. Kody came in and gave us a nice lift so you’ve got to look and say where was there a bright spot in that regard, but there just wasn’t a lot there. … When we turned it over, it added to that.”
The turnovers and 3-point shooting looked similar to the season-opening loss to Navy when the Hoos had 14 turnovers and shot 25% from downtown. So did the rebounding on the defensive end.
Houston snared 10 offensive rebounds, meaning the Wahoos have allowed double digits in that category in all three games. They’ve also allowed 45.3% or better shooting in two of the three games. That included Tuesday night’s tilt when Houston ended up at 49% shooting (24-49). The hosts ripped the nets at 60% in the second half (12-20).
Some of the trouble came from the 3-point line. The Cougars knocked down 55% of their long-range shots (11-20). Some of those shots were well contested, but some were open.
Marcus Sasser and Kyler Edwards did the most damage. Sasser poured in 19 points behind 4-7 shooting from 3-point range. He added 4 assists. Edwards scored 18 points on the strength of 5-6 3-point shooting.
Throw in 16 points from fast breaks – much of that production was triggered by the turnover problems – and the combination of issues was tough to overcome.
UVA’s next chance to apply lessons is Friday when Coppin State visits John Paul Jones Arena for a 7 p.m. tip-off.