Virginia Cavaliers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Cavs Stun in Big Ten Challenge
Virginia came into Minnesota's barn expecting a valuable learning experience. They left with a momentous victory that knocked the Golden Gophers from the ranks of the unbeatens.
Minnesota entered the game with some notable injuries, namely Al Nolen and Rodney Williams. However, that did not look to be an issue against lowly Virginia.
The same Virginia team that was completely outclassed by the Washington Huskies, and blew a 16-point lead against Wichita State in the Maui Invitational.
The experts certainly knew this was going to be a blowout.
It certainly did not seem to be an issue when the Golden Gophers took a 39-29 lead at half.
So, what on earth happened?
Well, first and foremost, Virginia began to shoot.
The Cavaliers have been known for some awful cold spells this season. At times, it looks like Virginia cannot make a shot in the ocean.
Well in the second half, the Cavaliers scored a blistering 58 points. By comparison, Virginia scored 58 points in 40 minutes against Wichita State.
Freshman Joe Harris looks to be a budding star, shooting lights out with a 24 point performance on the road.
Who was the MVP for Virginia in the Minnesota win?
On a young team, Harris is already establishing himself as a big part of this offense.
However, the star of the game was Virginia center Assane Sene.
The junior from Senegal has struggled throughout his career at Virginia. Despite his 7'0" frame, Sene's hands simply have not been up to par.
In fact, Virginia's coaches have been throwing footballs to him at practice, working hard to improve his ability to catch and finish at the basket.
From the beginning, Sene has been a project.
Defensively, Sene has been a foul magnet. It certainly has not helped him that his lack of poise and grace at times costs him the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, none of that seemed to matter tonight. Sene was thrown into emergency mode when forward Will Sherrill went down with a bad leg injury.
Sene needed to step up and did he ever.
Seven points and six rebounds may not sound all that impressive, but his activity on the boards was critical.
Sene played smart, he played passionately and he played well. Whenever a big man goes to the line, it can be scary, but Sene drew contact and made his shots.
It sucked the life out of the crowd and clearly rattled the Minnesota team.
The Golden Gophers pressed in the second half, frustrated that they were losing.
The Cavaliers cannot be successful under Tony Bennett's system if they turn the ball over. In the first half, Virginia had eight turnovers. In the second half they had only three.
By making Minnesota earn their shots, Virginia found some breathing room and held on for a shocking 87-79 victory.
The question becomes, where will Virginia go from here?
The Cavaliers have shown promise before. In Bennett's first season, the Cavaliers were 14-6 (5-2 ACC) before a 10-game losing streak ruined an amazing start.
Virginia has young players and will likely continue to ebb and flow as they learn important lessons.
Nevertheless, no matter where the season goes from here, it will be a meaningful win.
Forget the fact that Virginia beat a top 15 team on the road without its starting point guard, and power forward.
This was an opponent that featured Ralph Sampson III, son of a Virginia great.
This was a coach who Virginia has twice tried to lure towards Charlottesville, only to be spurned.
This win meant a great deal to the players, but you know it means something to coach Bennett too.
This win is Bennett's moment to show Cavalier fans that they may have made the right choice in hiring the former Washington State coach.
A system coach takes time to implement his program with his players. If this is a sign of things to come though, it should be well worth the wait.
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