Virginia head coach Tony Bennett had no problem breaking down Thursday’s Atlantic Coast Conference quarterfinal against Notre Dame.
The third-seeded Irish, who snapped a 10-game losing streak to the Cavaliers in the process, were better across the board during their 71-58 victory.
“We were outplayed today,” Bennett said. “We were behind in the play. They really were moving the ball well. They're hard to guard. They played well, and we didn't have one of our better games.”
Notre Dame has now beaten every ACC team at least once since joining the league in 2013-14. After a miserable 71-54 loss to the Cavaliers in January, head coach Mike Brey and the Irish were 0-5 against Virginia.
There was no big pre-game speech Thursday, Brey said. His team simply executed during the biggest game of the season.
“We played like we wanted it so bad in South Bend, we tied ourself up in knots,” the 17th-year head coach said. “I tried to keep us a little looser today. But they wanted to beat this program. This program has kind of had our number. So it's great to get the first one when you're advancing in a tournament.”
Notre Dame now plays second-seeded Florida State. That game will likely tip-off around 10 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s ACC Championship game against either North Carolina or Duke.
The usual suspects carried Notre Dame offensively. Junior forward Bonzie Colson had 21 points and 10 rebounds, his ACC-leading 19th double-double.
Junior guard Matt Farrell had 14 points and four assists to go with just one turnover, engineering a stellar offensive game plan.
And Notre Dame’s two seniors — wing V.J. Beachem and guard Steve Vasturia — both added 12 points. Beachem had seven rebounds, while Vasturia had a well-rounded outing with five assists and five rebounds.
“We're really hungry and motivated to play these guys,” Colson said. “It's been a tough route playing them in the past, so we wanted it more. We got off to a great start. That's something Coach Brey has been emphasizing, great starts on offense.”
IRISH LOCK DOWN CAVALIERS
Virginia standout freshman guard Kyle Guy did not come close to matching his career-high 20 points he scored against Pittsburgh in the second round. The sharpshooter did not score against Notre Dame, a credit to the Irish defensive effort.
“Obviously he played well yesterday, and I'm sure they were contesting shots,” Bennett said. “As a first-year guy, he's got to learn from that. That wasn't one of his stronger games, and there's going to be some ups and downs. But he was good last night and not as good tonight.”
Cavaliers senior guard London Perrantes had just three points on 1-of-9 shooting, his lowest-scoring game since Jan. 2, 2016, vs. Notre Dame (2).
In the season’s first matchup with Notre Dame, Perrantes had a game-high 22 points, leading a 46.3-percent shooting effort from the field. The Cavaliers went 9-of-19 from 3 (47.4 percent).
“Obviously, Notre Dame played some good defense tonight,” Perrantes said Thursday. “But, yeah, missed some chippies, some layups. I had a couple of open threes that I missed. I don't know, I can't really tell you what it's from. Obviously, Notre Dame played good defense, and I put my hat off to them for that, but obviously I missed some open jump shots as well.”
Thursday was a different story. Bennett’s team shot just 38.6 percent and made 7-of-19 3-pointers (36.8%).
Brey credited sophomore guard Rex Pflueger with limiting Perrantes. Vasturia, meanwhile, did the heavy-lifting guarding Guy.
The Irish withstood 12 points from Darius Thompson, including 3-of-5 from 3.
The nation’s best defense got picked apart Thursday.
The defense-first Cavaliers — a program built around the Pack Line defense — entered the quarterfinals allowing just 55.1 points per game this season.
Notre Dame began the game by making eight of its first 11 shots, spacing the floor with the five-out, four-guard offense. Against a team that’s seemingly impossible to speed up, the Irish had six points in transition, including a statement reverse dunk by Pflueger.
Considering the opponent, it was as crisp an offensive performance as possible. Notre Dame’s 71 points — 7.5 below its season average — was the fourth-most points the Cavaliers have allowed all season.
Notre Dame shot 52 percent, becoming the first Virginia opponent to top 50 percent since Syracuse Feb. 4.
“Again, when a team can move the ball as quick as Notre Dame moves the ball and we were a step behind, they got a lot of easy looks, and they looked fresh,” Bennett said, “and we weren't as fresh physically or as fresh mentally as we've been in the past against them for sure.”
In their first matchup this year Jan. 24 in South Bend, Notre Dame scored just 0.80 points per possession, bogged down by the Pack Line defense.
Thursday, Notre Dame had 1.16 points per possession. Virginia entered allowing just 0.88 points per possession this season, third-best in the country.
“He really spreads the floor, and he plays four guards and a really skilled five man that can shoot the three and bounce it and is a double-double guy,” Bennett said of Brey’s offensive attack. “So their ball movement was terrific tonight. The pace on their cuts was good, and they had us behind the play. When we're at our best defensively, we're there, and we're anticipating.
“They put a lot of pressure. We've had a lot of good success against them. We've bothered shots and protected the lane, but we had trouble protecting the dribble off the bounce, and when they started getting in that way, again, we're playing catch-up.”
Virginia committed an average of 16 fouls per game in its first 31 games. Led by Led by Colson’s inside effort, Notre Dame drew 21 fouls Thursday. Colson made eight of his 11 free throws, Farrell made 5-of-7 and Vasturia was 4-of-4.
It all comes back to Notre Dame’s smaller, attacking rotation.
“Our smaller lineup, which we play longer, we've been playing longer since we got going after the Carolina game, really spreads the floor,” Brey said. “And Matt Farrell was fabulous with his decisions off the ball screen, dragging their help. Bonzie was slipping into space. We were hitting and making the extra pass. We're really hard to deal with when we can get into that rhythm.”
• Notre Dame’s Big Four of Beachem, Colson, Farrell and Vasturia scored 59 of the 71 points Thursday.
• The Irish held their own on the glass, as Virginia won the rebounding battle just 32-31. The Cavaliers got 13 offensive rebounds, but Notre Dame limited those opportunities to just seven second-chance points.
• Virginia junior guard Devon Hall on Notre Dame: “They just came out with a lot more energy than we did. We were kind of lethargic, like Coach said. We weren't as good as we usually are at our ball screen. So it was a little frustrating for us. And they just came out with a lot more pace and effort than we did.”