Virginia’s basketball program is known for its defensive commitment under coach Tony Bennett, and it probably will be so long as he remains in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers, though, have their offense to thank for their trip to the NCAA tournament regional semifinals this year.
Top-seeded Virginia scored on 20 of its first 24 possessions in the second half, shaking off an awkward start to oust ninth-seeded Butler 77-69 in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday at PNC Arena.
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“They made plays, too,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “There were just plays being made. Defensively, I watched it, we couldn’t quite stop them. Sometimes, we have to make enough plays.”
Malcolm Brogdon had 22 points and Anthony Gill added 19 for the Cavaliers (28-7), who will play in the regional semifinals for the second time in three seasons --- with both trips secured in Raleigh.
Virginia will face fourth-seeded Iowa State in Friday’s Midwest regional semifinal in Chicago. The Cyclones ousted 12th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock 78-61 on Saturday in Denver.
Forward Andrew Chrabascz scored a season-high 25 points and guard Roosevelt Jones added 18 for the Bulldogs (22-11). But Chrabascz had just one point in the final 16:32 after Virginia moved Brogdon onto him as his primary defender.
“They were switching one through four at that point so every ball screen I was going into there was just someone in my lap basically the entire time,” Chrabascz said. “Brogdon, he’s just very physical on the defensive end.”
It wasn’t the only tweak for the Cavaliers. Virginia leaned heavily on a four-guard lineup in the second half, leaning heavily on Marial Shayok (12 points). Virginia then could funnel the ball inside to Gill or drive to the basket, creating ample space for kick-outs to the perimeter. After sputtering in the first half, the Cavaliers averaged 1.5 points per possession after the break.
“The four-guard lineup was the biggest adjustment and that really helped us,” Brogdon said. “Other than that, we played a very tough team tonight and we were really tough. It was a battle of wills and I think imposed our will a little bit more toward the end.”
Virginia’s efficiency was apparent from the start of the second half when it scored on six possessions in a row. But with Chrabascz drilling 3-pointers on seemingly every other possession, Butler actually pushed a two-point margin to 41-36.
Still, the Cavaliers carved out one-on-one matchups, and exploited them in the final 15 minutes.
“What hurt us was decking the ball and they isolated us in the second half,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “[Shayok] isolated us on one side of the floor and drove us and we went a little bit smaller and then they just put their head down and started decking it. We had trouble with that as we have throughout various times.”
Brogdon began the game marking Kelan Martin, who mustered only six points. But with Chrabascz making 9 of 10 to open the game, Brogdon lobbied for the chance to defend the Butler junior and Bennett concurred.
“He’s guarded point guards, wings, different kinds of guys at the four spot,” Bennett said. “We just said ‘This is the time.’ We talked about that before, whether it’s him or Marial, but when a guy got cooking like that you had to respect that.”
While Chrabascz was silenced for the final 15 minutes, Virginia couldn’t put Butler away until the closing seconds. The Bulldogs pulled within 72-69 with 36.2 seconds to go, and Jones appeared to cleanly block Shayok’s breakaway layup attempt but was called for a foul with 28.3 seconds remaining.
Shayok split the two free throws to re-establish a two-possession lead, and Brogdon closed out the Bulldogs with four more foul shots to seal Virginia’s triumph.