The Dons used an 8-0 run, including consecutive three-pointers from Khalil Shabazz and Taavi Jurkatamm, late in the second half to regain the lead for good at 61-54 with 2:11 to play at the Homelight Classic, where San Francisco was a late replacement for the holiday event amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Freshman Reece Beekman made a layup, junior point guard Kihei Clark sank a pair of free throws, and sophomore forward Justin McKoy added a field goal to draw the Cavaliers (1-1) within one before San Francisco’s Josh Kunen missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Virginia’s Jay Huff collected the rebound, and Hauser had a clean look that bounced off the rim, ending the Cavaliers’ nine-game winning streak dating from last season, including Wednesday’s dismantling of Towson, 89-57.
“Look at it in the mirror, grow from it, forget about it if you’re at all thinking, ‘Well, we won the first game handily, and look at our ranking,’ “ Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “I mean we’ve all been down that road. That means nothing to start. We have to keep being as good as we can be, and that’s just not coach’s speak.”
The Cavaliers were far from that defensively in the second half, when San Francisco (2-1), picked to finish fifth in the West Coast Conference, scored 40 points, shot 51.7 percent from the field and made 60 percent (9 of 15) from beyond the arc in beating a top-five opponent for the first time since 1981.
Beekman and McKoy each scored a team-high 11 points for Virginia, which shot 41.2 percent from the field and went just 3 for 12 from three-point range. The three-point futility recalled last season’s struggles and marked a precipitous decline from its debut against the Tigers in which the Cavaliers shot 15 for 29.
Virginia also was careless with the basketball in the first half, committing five turnovers. A turnover by Clark with 2:51 left in the second half triggered San Francisco’s decisive surge, with Bouyea slapping the ball loose in the Dons’ third game in as many days.
“First let me say Virginia is a program we aspire to be like,” Dons Coach Todd Golden said. “We have tremendous respect for Tony Bennett and his program, and so for us to be able to compete like this on a national stage, on national TV against one of the winningest programs in the country, this is a big, big step for our program.”
San Francisco had lost 12 in a row to top-five opponents before beating the Cavaliers, who closed last season winning 11 of 12 and appeared poised for a deep run in the NCAA tournament before the pandemic paused nearly all sports in March.
This season’s iteration of Virginia includes several well-regarded transfers, with Hauser the most notable; highly regarded freshmen; and multiple players with a championship ring, all of which made the Cavaliers a preseason pick to contend for another NCAA tournament title.
Opening this season with an offensive outburst served only to underscore the lofty aspirations, considering Virginia managed to secure the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament in March despite shooting 30.3 percent from three-point range and averaging 5.7 makes from that distance.
“I would say first game we started off very hot,” McKoy said. “It seemed like we almost couldn’t miss, and this game it became a little more difficult. We didn’t shoot it as well, and that definitely plays part of it, but I think also our coaches prepared us. We’ve just got to attack in different ways on offense.”
The Cavaliers were especially stagnant in that regard in the first half, highlighted by a stretch in which they missed 13 of 14 shots. That shooting swoon allowed San Francisco to turn an eight-point deficit into a 19-15 lead after Shabazz’s three-pointer with 5:57 to play.
Virginia scored nine of the final 11 points in the first half, getting two free throws from Trey Murphy III, a three-pointer and layup from Beekman and a layup from Clark. Murphy finished with four points on 0-for-6 shooting after scoring 21, including 6 for 8 from behind the arc, against Towson.
Murphy is a transfer from Rice who learned Tuesday night he would eligible this season when the NCAA granted his waiver request.
“We’ve got to kind of harden up, we’ve got to get gritty, we’ve got to be tougher to score against and be the best version of ourselves,” Bennett said. “Nothing is assumed just because of what’s on the front of your jersey. You just work, and I think some of the concerns and the question marks we had showed, and they didn’t get answered.”
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