Virginia wanted to play a marquee nonconference game.
After losing out on games with Florida, Michigan State and Villanova due to COVID-19, Tony Bennett’s team added Gonzaga to the schedule. The massive showdown in Fort Worth, Texas, against the No. 1-ranked team in college basketball gave the Wahoos a chance to see how they stacked up against the nation’s best.
Be careful what you wish for.
Gonzaga annihilated Virginia 98-75 on Saturday, making quick work of the Pack Line defense and forcing the Cavaliers into offensive mistakes.
“We needed this,” Bennett said. “We got our games canceled against Michigan State and Villanova, Florida and we got beat by San Francisco. We barely beat Kent State. We needed to play against some teams that are high-major caliber, so this is the first time and we weren’t ready for it. I mean, it was too much.”
The Zags (7-0) entered the game with an impressive resume and it only improved after dispatching the reigning national champions. Bennett called his team “overwhelmed.”
“I definitely think that a couple of us were scared,” Virginia point guard Kihei Clark admitted. “I don’t know if it was because we were playing Gonzaga or the moment, but you could kind of feel it a little bit.”
Gonzaga became the first team since North Carolina in February of 2013 to score 90 points in regulation against the Cavaliers. The Bulldogs nearly reached 100.
Bennett and company faced a quick deficit Saturday, falling behind 7-0 as the Zags worked efficiently on the offensive end and UVa (4-2) committed turnovers on its first three possessions.
Turnovers and Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert were issues for the Wahoos in the opening 20 minutes — and throughout the evening. Virginia gave the ball away nine times in the first half, and Kispert scored 18 points on eight shots. He made five of his seven 3-point attempts in the first half.
Gonzaga opened up a 20-point lead at multiple points throughout the first half despite star freshman guard Jalen Suggs not scoring a point. Fortunately for UVa, it went on a 7-0 run to cut the halftime deficit to 44-31, making it a game at halftime.
Clark scored 11 points in the first half while also adding three assists to go with four turnovers. The Cavaliers leaned on their junior guard to create offense. Clark finished with 19 points, four assists and six turnovers.
Unfortunately for UVa, there was no slowing down Kispert in either half.
The senior knocked down three shots from beyond the arc in the first handful of minutes in the second half, and forward Drew Timme added a layup after a pair of Kispert’s made shots to put Gonzaga up 62-38 with 15:56 left.
Bennett called timeout with the Cavaliers reeling.
“A lot of breakdowns,” Bennett said. “We had a lot of trouble on ball-screen defense.”
Virginia never made a legitimate scoring run at the Zags after the 7-0 run to end the first half. The Wahoos trailed for 39 minutes and 36 seconds, struggling to keep pace from the opening tip.
Kispert buried a 3-pointer with 6:42 left to put the Zags up 89-58. He finished the game with 32 points, making nine shots from 3-point range. Timme added 29, making nine shots and an additional 11 free throws.
The Wahoos are known for stellar defense, holding opponents to fewer than 60 points regularly. William & Mary only scored 40 points against the ‘Hoos the last time they took the court.
Saturday, Gonzaga embarrassed Virginia on national television.
The Cavaliers weren’t up to the task defensively, and the offense looked sloppy and inconsistent.
“We haven’t guarded well this year yet,” Bennett said.
UVa wanted the best.
It faced it Saturday, giving up 98 points and losing by 23.
“You can’t hide forever,” Bennett said. “You gotta know. Look, we’ve got some warts. We gotta go to work on those.”