Chase Budinger got off to a rousing start, scoring 15 points in the first half of his first game as a Wildcat. The standout freshman hit a 3-pointer, had a dunk and demonstrated a nifty mid-range game as he helped lead the Wildcats to a 49-36 halftime lead.
The Wildcats had 12 assists in the half, five coming from senior point guard Mustafa Shakur.
Sharp shooting Jawann McClellan finished the game with 18 points, making 4 of 6 from deep. Marcus Williams also had 18 points in the game while Ivan Radenovic, getting the start at center, had a game high 24 for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats shot 47.0% from the field for the game and 76.0% from the line, converting 19 of 25 free throws. The Cavaliers made four more free throws than the Wildcats attempted, shooting 29 of 38 from the line.
The game was a tale of two half's as the Cavaliers outscored the Wildcats 57-41 in the final 20 minutes to overcome the halftime deficit.
Arizona played solid team defense in the first half by denying passing lanes and fronting the post. The Wildcats contested almost every shot as their big men rotated well to clog the lane when Cavaliers guards Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds were able to penetrate. On offense, Arizona's players moved well without the ball, set solid screens, and unselfishly made the extra pass. Their play left Virginia guessing as the Wildcats were able to seemingly score at will whether the Cavaliers played man or zone defense.
In the second half, the tables were turned. The Cavaliers became the aggressors and were rewarded by the whistle blowing officials. Virginia was in the bonus at the 12:57 mark and in the double bonus with 11:04 on the clock when Shakur picked up his fourth foul.
Shakur would later foul out and was quickly joined on the bench by Williams who was also whistled for his fifth foul in the closing minutes.
During the first eight minutes of the second half, Arizona's up tempo running style was deflated as one foul after another was whistled against them. The Virginia crowd, sensing a frustrated Arizona squad, seized the opportunity and began to get louder and louder.
The crowd noise was then fueled by Arizona's poor transition defense, questionable shot selection, and growing foul trouble. The Cavaliers fed off of their home crowd's energy and began to knock down shots from just about everywhere, including a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key that somehow banked in.
Sean Singletary, Virginia's leading scorer and 1st Team All-ACC Selection from last year, was unstoppable. He scored a game high 25 points as he relentlessly attacked the Arizona defense. Mamadi Diane also scored a game and career high 25 points to provide the Cavaliers with a second scoring option that the Wildcats clearly did not game plan for.
Time and time again, Diane was left open for uncontested 3-pointers (he made 5 of 6) or was able to attack the baseline for easy scores. He finished 8 of 9 from the floor and 4 of 4 from the free throw line.
Arizona's deep bench did little in the game. Freshman Nic Wise and junior Daniel Dillon made shots early, but neither scored in the second half in replacing the foul-plagued Shakur who spent most of the half on the bench. Freshman Jordon Hill had one block in the first half and played solid defense. His effectiveness in the second half was also restricted, though, by Arizona's sudden lack of team chemistry and Virginia's hot shooting.
In the end, playing on the road seemed too tough for the young Wildcats. Budinger was held to two points in the second half as he rarely touched the ball due to the team's propensity to take quick shots.
Time and again, the Wildcats who moved the ball so well in the first half, settled for outside shots early in the shot clock. The bad shots left the Wildcats out of position and the Cavaliers took advantage by securing the rebounds, out letting and then finishing on the break.
What worked so well for Arizona in the game's opening 20 minutes proved to be the formula for success for Virginia in the game's final 20 minutes.
In the first half, Arizona showed nice chemistry on both ends of the court. They hustled, attacked the offensive glass, and played good team defense. Arizona thwarted several backdoor attempts and Singletary struggled to get a good look at the basket because Arizona rotated well in playing solid team defense. On offense, Arizona displayed good balance in scoring both inside and outside.
Arizona lacked a killer instinct and allowed the road crowd to stay in the game by hoisting up one bad shot after another early in the second half. Virginia outscored the Wildcats 12-4 in the opening minutes of the half by taking advantage of Arizona's lackluster, if not cavalier, play. In the second half, they helped breathe life into the Cavaliers by taking bad shots and being careless with the ball. What's more, their poor transition defense enabled Singletary to finally get some good looks at the basket and he capitalized by making shot after shot.
The loss itself is what's ugly. With 2:49 to go in the first half, the Wildcats led by 19. With 1:23 to go in the game, they trailed by six. Arizona, the prohibitive favorite, played well enough to win but just bad enough to lose. On the road, a team cannot afford to relax for a second and that's exactly what Arizona did.