Wake Forest 75
History suggested Virginia might find a panacea for its collective ills tonight at University Hall. History was proven correct, as the Cavaliers used a strong defensive effort to push past No. 17 Wake Forest in the second half for an 85-75 win.
Virginia (11-6, 2-3 ACC) had lost four of its past five games, but each of those losses was on the road. At home, the Cavaliers are 46-8 since 1999, including 8-0 this season.
"We knew they'd be a wounded animal, for lack of a better analogy," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "I thought they played with a lot of passion."
In rhythm offensively for most of the night, Virginia shot 51 percent from the field -- thanks in part to Majestic Mapp's 17-minute stint at point guard -- and put four scorers in double figures. Yet the Cavaliers trailed until the closing minutes of the first half because they could not get the defensive stops they needed to do more than just trade baskets with Wake Forest (12-2, 2-2).
That changed for Virginia on the final few possessions before halftime and throughout the second half. After shooting 58 percent in the first half, Wake Forest managed less than 35 percent in the second as the Cavaliers built on their 43-41 halftime lead.
Senior wing Josh Howard and sophomore forward Vytas Danelius scored 20 points each for Wake Forest, but Howard was 7 of 19 from the field and Danelius, who tied a career high, was limited to three points on 1-of-3 shooting after halftime. Point guard Taron Downey had 19 points on 4-of-10 shooting with eight turnovers.
Todd Billet, Virginia's streaky shooter, hit 7 of 14 shots to lead all scorers with 23 points. Small forward Devin Smith added 17, and power forward Travis Watson had 11 points and 13 rebounds.
The Cavaliers took a two-point lead into the break when Billet capped a late Virginia burst by curling around a screen to hit a three-pointer in the closing seconds. They surged in the opening minutes of the second half, establishing a 53-44 lead 4 minutes 52 seconds in when Keith Jenifer found Jason Clark for a hoop underneath the basket.
Wake Forest, meantime, was in the midst of a field goal drought that lasted 7:39 spanning the two halves. Clark did a solid job guarding Howard, and Virginia center Nick Vander Laan was strong defensively after volunteering at halftime to cover Danelius.
"They were in the passing lanes [and] we didn't handle the basketball as well as we needed to," said Prosser, who spent eight years as an assistant under Virginia Coach Pete Gillen at Xavier. "They guarded us better than we executed our offense."
Virginia led by at least four points for the remainder of the game, often in front by eight or 10. That was enough to rid any memories of Tuesday's 73-55 loss at Virginia Tech, which followed losses at Duke and Clemson.
"I had people telling me which bridge to jump off of," Gillen joked. "They were going to drive me to the bridge."
Howard said the Demon Deacons recognized Virginia's desperation.
"I'm not taking anything away from Virginia Tech, but they [Virginia] needed this win," Howard said. "They wanted it more than us."
The Cavaliers trailed 31-23 when Mapp entered the game with 6:43 left in the first half. He hit a three-pointer -- his only basket of the night -- on the next possession, then helped lead Virginia's 20-10 run to close the half.
"In practices he had started doing more and we said, 'Hey, let's take a shot,' " Gillen said. "We needed him to play. Our guys like Majestic because he finds them. He makes good passes. We didn't know how long he could play, but he gave us a lift."
Trailing 39-35 after Danelius hit a short jumper from the baseline, Virginia pulled within one on the next possession when Vander Laan found Watson cutting underneath the hoop for a lay-in that became a three-point play thanks to Danelius's second foul. Two free throws by Vander Laan gave the Cavaliers a 40-39 lead, their first since the opening minutes, with 1:17 left.
Downey regained the lead for Wake with free throws earned on a fast-break drive, but Billet answered with a three that gave the Cavs a 43-41 halftime lead.