Virginia-California Preview (Dec 21, 2016)

For college basketball fans that value the importance of defense, Wednesday night’s matchup between No. 12 Virginia and California at Berkeley, Calif., will be one that isn’t to be missed.

Almost a year ago to the date, Virginia edged California 63-62 in overtime in Charlottesville, Va.

The Cavaliers travel to the West Coast for an important non-conference game with the Golden Bears before starting their ACC schedule with one of the best defenses in the country — and maybe one of head coach Tony Bennett’s best since he’s arrived at Virginia.

Four of Virginia’s 10 opponents have been held to 40 points or fewer, and if you include the Cavaliers’ win over Iowa, five have been held to 41 or fewer. Bennet’s squad leads the country in scoring defense at just under 47 points per game allowed.

California enters the game with a 9-2 record but will face by far its toughest opponent. The Golden Bears also boast a stout defense, surrendering just under 60 points per game, and have not allowed more than 65 points in any of their nine wins.

Three players are averaging in double figures scoring for California. Sophomore standout Ivan Rabb will get his second and final shot at a win over Virginia after California dropped a heartbreaker at John Paul Jones Arena last season. Rabb is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game and will be a handful inside for the Cavaliers.

Rabb scored just nine points in the meeting last season but did pull down a team-high 12 rebounds. Fellow frontcourt mate Jabari Bird is averaging just under 16 points per game and six rebounds per game.

Virginia has maintained its balanced offensive approach and put four players in double figures in Saturday’s win over Robert Morris. Sophomore Jack Salt scored a career-high 10 points in the win and will get the chance to play in front of his family for the first time in the Golden State.

“I’ve got eight family members that are going to be out there, so I’m pretty excited,” the New Zealand native said. “I haven’t seen them for a while. I’ll get to stay with them in California for a few days, which will be nice. I haven’t seen them for maybe eight months, so I am really looking forward to seeing my family.”

Senior guard London Perrantes will also get the chance to play in front of some family members. The 6-foot-2 point guard, a Los Angeles native, scored 10 points and dished out six assists in the Cavaliers’ win last season.

“I am glad we are going to Cal for London (Perrantes)’s sake, Jack (Salt)’s family will be there as well,” Bennett said. “I think the competition will step up from here on out and we will have to be ready.”