The past couple weeks of Virginia basketball have revealed two truths about the Cavaliers. The “other guys” on Virginia’s roster have developed enough to make the Cavs into a legitimate ACC and Final Four threat.
At the same time, however, UVA can only go as far as London Perrantes will take it.
When Perrantes is really on, the Cavaliers have shown they can beat, even beat up on, just about any team in the country. Monday was further evidence: Perrantes scored 18 points with four rebounds, three assists and one turnover as Virginia once again dismantled Louisville.
The Cavs (18-5, 8-3 ACC) have gone 3-2 in their past five games. The breakdown of that stretch — and the entire season — is such that when Perrantes played well the Cavs won. When he’s struggled, Virginia has been vulnerable.
Take the Jan. 29 loss at Villanova. The supporting cast delivered. Isaiah Wilkins, Marial Shayok and Ty Jerome all scored in double figures. But Perrantes, who continually drove the lane yet couldn’t draw a foul, finished with four points on 2 of 11 shooting.
Monday’s game wasn’t even one of the senior guard’s best, but he was good enough to set the tone as the Cavaliers quietly and efficiently turned a first-half deficit into another blowout victory against Rick Pitino’s Cardinals. It wasn’t a particularly great shooting night for Perrantes, who made just two of his seven 3-point attempts, but the four-year starter gave Virginia coach Tony Bennett what he needed from a point guard: a steady handle on the ball without showing the frustration that started to get the best of him in recent losses.
Perrantes created opportunities when the Cavaliers needed him to, driving the lane and getting to the free throw line.
“I felt we needed to try to attack and touch the paint and be assertive and make the right plays from there,” Bennett told reporters after the game. “(Perrantes) had a nice feel and he did draw some fouls, which was good. We’ve had those dry spells where we haven’t been able to get to the line so that was big tonight. To be able to cash in and make 18 of 20 is obviously important.”
The Cavaliers didn’t get the calls against Villanova, and it impacted the way Perrantes played. In Saturday’s loss at Syracuse the Cavs had bad flashbacks of blowing a big lead to the Orange in last year’s Elite Eight.
There was no such frustration or panic on Big Monday. The Cavaliers steadily chipped away at a seven-point Louisville lead late in the first half, cutting it to two at the break then opening the second half with a surgical dismantling of the visitors.
Now, despite a relative rough patch, Virginia is tied for second in the ACC and just a game behind league-leading North Carolina with two meetings against the Tar Heels still to come.
If Perrantes plays his best, those matchups of conflicting styles are winnable for Virginia, which somehow always stays in the championship picture no matter the star players it loses.
The Cavaliers’ run of success under Tony Bennett began four years ago when an unheralded point guard from California stepped in and ran the system to perfection.
Perrantes’ role has grown in that time, and if Virginia is going to reach even greater heights before he’s gone, it’s going to be on his own shoulders.