The No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers lost in stunning fashion to the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles on Monday night, 81-60, the biggest conference loss for the Hoos since 2017. Florida State’s 45 first-half points were most allowed by Virginia since giving up 48 at Tennessee back in 2013 (did you hear Joe Harris drove his truck over to Tony Bennett’s house?).
Following the loss, head coach Tony Bennett spoke to the media on what they’re taking away from this game and how they’re moving forward.
“There are physical, aggressive teams,” Bennett said, “and somehow when you play those teams, and they’re good, they’re not just physical but how do you, it’s why they are ranked and all that, how do you hang in there and battle and be tough minded...it goes to the things you have control over.”
“We’ve said that before—we’re not the most physically imposing team but we have to do physically imposing things that matter.”
In comparing the team’s big losses to Gonzaga, Florida State, and Virginia Tech so far, Bennett found some similarities in these opponents imposing their way upon Virginia.
“Gonzaga and Florida State...boom, that separation was there right away and it was almost like cold water. The Virginia Tech game, I thought they, as the game wore on, they sort of imposed their way on us, which we’ve done to teams in the past. It’s just trying to grow from it and learn from it.”
In Virginia’s comeback bid, Bennett pointed to a defensive clampdown that allowed the Hoos to pull within seven early in the first half, but it wasn’t enough, and it wasn’t sustained enough, to get the job done.
“We didn’t let them in the lane, we guarded the ball, and we were inspired. If you want a chance to beat a team of this caliber, or that is playing at this level in this setting, you can’t be a sometimes-really-good defensively, you have to be all-the-time-good in the areas that you have control over. We can’t control if they can make a big time shot or an acrobatic play, but we can control if our defenses set, if we’re active on the ball, if we’re in position and not committing some lapse of judgments. I think that was the part that was we have to look into and say, ‘How good can we be, how good do we want to be.’ That to me was the disappointing part, because we were there for a while and then all of a sudden if it went away that quickly, whether it was a breakdown or not and, again, said you can’t maybe win a game in the first five eight minutes, but you can put yourself in a spot where you can make it dang near impossible to come back and to put ourselves in that kind of hole is frustrating.
Senior guard Tomas Woldetensae echoed Bennett’s sentiments and added that for him, one big takeaway was that the team needs to get better at handling defensive pressure and get back to running their offense. For him, it’s this pressure that’s the common thread among Virginia’s losses to ranked teams.
“We were expecting a lot of pressure [from Florida State],” Woldetensae said. “I don’t know, maybe not in the scenario switching that often. So that led us to spread the floor and struggle a little bit.”
As far as how the team rebounds from Monday night’s loss, while some of it will be up to the coaches to make the tweaks they need, Woldetensae added, “if I can talk for the players, just be ready to fight every game. People have to want it. Also, adjusting to the pressure. Just working on, being ready to handle pressure better, go through our plays better and to attack them, not just be attacked.”
“We approach every game, the same mentality. It’s going to be a fight, today they just won.”
“We’re getting down to the end, that’s the thing,” Bennett said. “You don’t want to leave anything on the table. That’s what we got to do moving forward.”
Virginia gets the rest of the week off but will return to action on Saturday to face a struggling Duke team that just lost their projected lottery pick Jalen Johnson, who has opted out for the remainder of the season to begin preparing for the NBA Draft after suffering a toe injury earlier this season that caused him to miss three games.
Tipoff is at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN.