Cavalier Corner

April 2017

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APRIL 2017 ◆ 13 BY ANDREW RAMSPACHER T AKING A PAGE FROM HIS father's playbook, Tony Ben- nett waited to escort London Perrantes off the John Paul Jones Arena floor. It was March 4 and one major chapter of Virginia men's basketball history was over. Perrantes, four-year starting point guard and centerpiece to UVA's 2016-17 season, had just put on a Senior Day show, scoring 22 points, handing out three assists and leading the Cavaliers to a 67-42 win over Pittsburgh. It was career victory No. 106 for Perran- tes, moving him into a tie for sixth on the program's all-time list. The blowout also marked Virginia's third consecutive win to close the regular season. Bennett, the UVA head coach who re- cruited Perrantes out of Los Angeles, walked toward the tunnel to the Wahoos' locker room before pausing. "I remember my Senior Day, my father and I walked off the court," Bennett said, recalling his time as Dick Bennett's best player at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the early 1990s. "He was my coach, of course, and he put his arm around me and we walked off the court, and that was the last thing we did for my last game at Green Bay. "I waited for London and I said to him, 'I want to walk off this court with you with my arm around you because we have expe- rienced special things.' "I am very grateful for his decision to come to Virginia." Two weeks later, Bennett and Perrantes shared a podium for the final time. It was at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., and the coach had his arm around his point guard for a different reason. Virginia's season, held together by Ben- nett and Perrantes for so long, had come to an end. Perrantes, red-eyed after missing 10 of 12 shots in a 65-39 loss to Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, summed up perfectly his final 40 minutes in a Cavalier uniform. "I knew my shot wasn't falling, but I was still going to try to be aggressive, obviously," Perrantes said. "My game is not to go out and play one-on-one. Even though we were down 20, 25, I'm not the person to just try and go get mine to go out on a high note. I was just trying to keep playing ball. Maybe some shots would fall. Maybe we'll get some stops. "I came in with the team. I'm going out with the team. It's not a one-man thing." There are a variety of ways to view Vir- ginia's 23-11 season. It didn't match the Final Final-contending campaigns of recent years past. There was no ACC Player of the Year candidate or All-American. There was only a brief stay at the ACC Tournament. On the flip side, Bennett got the Cavaliers to a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance despite post player limitations, guard inconsistency and Perrantes being the team's leading scorer at a modest 12.7 points per game. Of the 68 NCAA Tournament teams, UVA was the lone squad to enter with just a single player averaging double figures in points. Did the Wahoos overachieve? "I told this team a few nights ago they're one of my favorite teams," Bennett said fol- lowing the Florida loss. "I still feel that way about them because we lost a lot. There was a lot of expectations, but they did a lot. "Take this game away — and you can't take it away completely, but to finish 11-7 [in the ACC], to win 23 games, to make the tournament, to advance with the inex- perience and to stay together … we went through some of the losses. I admired that about them, and I'll always admire that." In the preseason Associated Press poll released Oct. 31, Virginia came in at No. 8. This came after the Cavaliers had lost Mal- colm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, program stalwarts who had been the one-two punch to the previous year's Elite Eight run. But, the pollsters thought, UVA still had Perrantes and Bennett, and were adding highly touted transfer forward Austin Nich- ols to the mix. When Nichols was dismissed for a viola- tion of team rules less than a month later, per- haps expectations should have been altered for these Hoos. They were down a proven inside threat and would have to rely on supe- rior guard play plus exceptional results from Bennett's famed Pack-Line defense. Such a formula had Virginia at 16-3 af- ter a 71-54 win at Notre Dame Jan. 24. It marked the second-best 19-game start in the eight-year Bennett era. "We just play slow," third-year forward Isa- iah Wilkins said that evening in South Bend, Ind. "We play our game. We're not going to surprise anybody. We just do what we do." After that "thorough beating," as Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey put it, the Cava- liers earned even more national respect four days later at No. 1 Villanova. The defend- ing national champions had to rally from a 13-point second-half deficit and get a buzzer- beating shot to top the Wahoos, 61-59. "It was an unbelievable basketball game," Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said. "We have so much respect for their team and their program. We were looking forward to this game, we just knew that we would be tested and we knew we were going to come out of this game learning a lot. "We got a little lucky at the end … I just love playing Virginia. I think Tony is one of the best coaches ever and I think that program is outstanding." Even in the loss, Virginia might have peaked that afternoon. Soon, the weakness became harder and harder to hide. The Cavs went 7-8 over their final 15 games, a stretch defined by an up- and-down offense. During a four-game losing streak from Feb. 12-20 — the longest at UVA since Bennett's first season in Charlottesville — the Hoos shot 35 percent from the floor. Perrantes, himself, was in a 16-of-58 slump (27.6 percent). London Perrantes — who was escorted off the court by head coach Tony Bennett following his final home game — finished his UVA career ranked in the all-time top 10 of several categories, including first in starts (134) and fourth in victories (108). PHOTO BY MATT RILEY/COURTESY UVA MAINTAINING MOMENTUM Young Cavaliers Persevere To Achieve Another Solid Season

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