The outcome was all but settled midway through the first half when Virginia forged a 21-4 lead, allowing just one field goal over the first seven-plus minutes in front of 250 fans, all family of players and coaches.
“We played really good basketball defensively and offensively in the first half,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. “We got on the glass. We touched the paint, scored in the paint and offensive rebounds, post moves, so that was good to see, and just moved and tried to do what we could.”
Virginia (2-1) limited the Red Flash (1-2) to 36 percent shooting, including 17 percent in the first half, and won for the 10th time in 11 games dating to last season.
Bennett had challenged his players since the loss Friday to San Francisco to be far more attentive defensively. They responded by permitting 13 first-half points and contesting virtually every shot on the way to a 16th victory in the past 17 home games.
“If they thought we were invincible or can just show up, no way, there’s too many good teams,” Bennett said. “San Francisco took it right at us. We’ve got work to do. That was the message. Be sound, be tough, and we went to work to the best of our abilities the last couple days.”
Virginia won its 24th consecutive home opener and improved to 80-7 in nonconference games under Bennett, who modified the starting lineup by inserting freshman Reece Beekman, among the most highly regarded recruits in the country, in place of junior Kihei Clark at point guard.
Beekman played 22 minutes, scoring just two points but committing no turnovers with four assists. It was a rare occasion for Clark, a starter on the 2018-19 national championship team, to rest after leading the Cavaliers with more than 37 minutes per game last season.
Center Jay Huff led Virginia with 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field, including several dunks in the first half. The 7-foot redshirt senior, who flirted with entering this year’s NBA draft, added five rebounds and three blocks in 14 minutes.
Virginia led for all but 21 seconds, shot 52 percent and went 11 for 12 from the free throw line. It also held a 40-18 margin in points in the paint and a 38-25 rebounding advantage. The Cavaliers led 45-13 by halftime, allowing the reserves to combine to score 35 points.
The pregame ceremonies featured 13 of Virginia’s 16 players kneeling during the national anthem, with the entire team wearing warmup jerseys printed with “Unity” across the front.
Players indicated they had discussed on Thanksgiving while at the team hotel how each individually planned to address social injustice at Tuesday’s game as college athletes across the country participate in protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black men and women.
“A lot of us have really strong beliefs about the situation in the country right now, with the police brutality and all that,” redshirt freshman Kadin Shedrick said. “The guys that stand, they’re with us 100 percent, and the guys that kneel were with the guys that stand 100 percent. We’re all very unified in what we do, and we all support each other.”