CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA —
A few weeks back when I wrote about my trip down to Chinatown for the Villanova/Georgetown game, I noted all of the great D-1 college basketball options in the DC area. Last weekend, I decided to venture outside of the Beltway for the two hour trip down to Charlottesville, VA for an epic matchup between Duke and unbeaten Virginia.
ESPN’s College Gameday was in the house, some kid hit a half court shot during the show to win $18K, Jay Williams wore a Ralph Sampson and dove into the John Paul Jones Arena student section after predicting a UVa win and a campus buzzed all damn day knowing that the 4th ranked Blue Devils were right down the street.
Virginia would follow up an uninspired 1st half with a 2nd half full of punches and counter punches. After a big swing that included a Duke flagrant foul that seemed to lock up a Cavalier win, I was already talking to my fellow Wahoo fan neighbor in the upper deck of JPJ about big picture topics like next years recruiting class and potential rotation changes for this years edition of UVa basketball.
Somehow, after all these years of watching sports and with a perpetual world beater like Duke in the building, I still fell for the “the game is over even though it’s not officially over” trap.
Virginia would freeze up, Duke would man up and the Blue Devils ended the game on an 11-0 run to pull away with a late win.
It’s been eight days since that game, so a full blown recap seems silly. Instead I’ll cover a few highlights of the trip, my good friend and FSB regular Danny Sumerlin will give his JPJ review as seen through the eyes of a Dukie and then I’ve posted a bunch of pics from a day spent in Charlottesville.
- As I hopped in my car to make the journey south, she wouldn’t start. After 4-5 key turns accompanied by stomps on the gas, the ol’ girl woke up. Most rational people would have probably thought about a trip to their local service center before embarking on a two hour drive. I guess I’m not rational, because I rode that potential one way missile all the way to Charlottesville.
- My crew had plenty of time to explore before the game, and within a 30 minute stretch we walked past Edgar Allen Poe’s old dorm room, a nearly 100 year old bronze statue of Homer, the famous Rotunda and a giant piece of the Berlin Wall. UVa’s campus is a feast for the eyes and a must for history buffs.
- The campus was high octane all day. Great energy from the students and fans. Every bar was packed many hours before tipoff.
- I had been to JPJ once before, for a 2013 game versus Northern Iowa during Christmas break. Not exactly a true barometer of the arena’s potential. The place is top notch. It seats around 15K but somehow feels cozy. With the limited opportunity to make a basketball arena unique, the developers and architects created a very one-of-a-kind feel to the place.
- I parked across the street at the Afghan Kabob Palace. I’m a veteran of paying to park at random houses and gas stations for UVa football, so paying $20 to park across the street from the venue at a kabob joint was 2nd nature to me.
- We made our way in just a few moments before the starting lineups were announced. We took our seats and I looked to my right to find Danny. I looked to my left to find a married couple wearing Duke blue. Fantastic, I’d driven 120 miles from Maryland to watch one of the biggest games in UVa history as the meat in a Blue Devil sandwich.
- Hey UVa, I will totally take your word for it that you made the NIT in 1941. We don’t need to make room on a banner for that fact. How about getting rid of the NIT banners and giving each retired number it’s own banner rather than cramming them all on one? Just a thought.
- The 1st half was notable for Duke’s transition offense, off both made and missed UVa baskets. Virginia played tight and even the crowd was a little too amped up. You could sense the nervous energy with each possession of a crowd that was expecting something dreadful to happen.
- Can we move on from the big cardboard faces of players and random celebs in college hoops student sections? It’s been done to death.
- At halftime, I felt it could have been a lot worse for UVa. Okafor had 2 points, Duke hadn’t hit a 3 and they also shot very poorly from the line. Lots of open misses from the Blue Devils and they held a slim 1st half lead.
- Trampoline dunkers at halftime missed more dunks than Donald Hand his senior year. Rough night for the dunk squad.
- Virginia built a 11 point 2nd half lead. This game was feeling like it was way over.
- Is there a more dangerous scorer in college basketball who only averages 5 points a game than London Perrantes? Dude just makes clutch baskets when Virginia needs it most. He’s the ace in the hole come tournament time.
- Up 45-34, Justin Anderson had a 3 rattle in and out and then Duke went down and converted their first 3 of the night, courtesy of Tyus Jones. They would make five more 3’s and score 35 points in the final 10 minutes of the game after only scoring 34 points the first 30 minutes of the game. That 6 point swing on the Anderson miss and and Jones make felt like the turning point.
- Jones 3 pointer with 11 seconds left would be the final points of the game and was a result of a legit NBA move to create his own shot and bury the dagger as the shot clock hit zero. Kid will be a star.
- JPJ was deathly quiet as the horn sounded and the players shook hands. As I watched Coach K do his thing where he has lengthy conversations with the other teams starters after a big Duke win, I was dumbfounded at how the country’s best defense could gag away a lead like that. I played the “sit silently in my seat with a blank stare as my team just suffered a gut wrenching loss” role to perfection. Had I been a blonde cheerleader with the UVa logo painted on my cheek I would have made the Sports Center intro that night.
- The husband in the Duke combo to my left went absolutely berserk as the game ended. This prompted a whiskey soaked, red faced UVa fan wearing khaki’s with orange V’s on them to turn around and really get in this guys face. Both were over 50 and carried on for several minutes of ranting and raving. Fellas, it’s just sports. Once you’re out of your 20’s, act like it.
The orange and blue crowd was numb as the doors to JPJ opened up into a dark, winter chilled night. I made my way back to the car (it started on the first try, so I did have one victory that night) and made a right turn out of the kabob joint onto Route 29 and back home to the Old Line State. Running on fumes from a whirlwind day, my journey was fueled by Sheetz coffee and some ’96 Phish from Vegas.
Since this game, Virginia has won at UNC and back at home versus Lousiville, but also lost Justin Anderson for 4 weeks or more with a broken finger. UVa defeats at the hands of Duke have come in many different flavors over the years, but a 2nd half choke job as an unbeaten 6 point favorite was a new experience.
Still, playing meaningful games versus Duke as an unbeaten team is something no UVa fan could have dreamt of after the past 30+ years. There are bigger games ahead for this team.
A Duke fan writing on FSB? You bet’cha. The Devil in the Blue Dress is none other than FSB regular Danny Sumerlin, with his take on Duke, Cameron Indoor, JPJ, the 2014 Virginia Cavaliers and the best rock supergroups of all time. Actually, everything except the supergroups. Buy him a few drinks at Pacifica and you’ll get your answer on that one.
My introduction to John Paul Jones Arena:
I have been a life long (32 years) Duke fan. I’ve seen them play at neutral sites but about 75% were at Cameron Indoor. I know I am biased but it is arguably the premier college arena. For many sports fans, it’s on their bucket list. The intimacy of the house K built looks as if it is frozen in time. The gothic stone exterior reminds, upon arrival, more of an administrative building or even a church. Depending on the various approach angles, you are funneled in past Krzyzewskiville. Its a special place. It’s wild that in a world of big money at a very successful private institution with a successful basketball program, Duke has managed (although many rumors and attempts to drum up alumni money to build a newer place have taken place) to keep it as is, with minor cosmetic upgrades inside. Even the nose bleeds give you a sense that anyone could reach out and touch Okafor’s massive frame.
On the last day of January, I took the trip to John Paul Jones Arena to watch my Devils play my native Virginia and their unbeaten Cavaliers. Under different circumstances, I root for Hoos. In fact, in total six family members attended both Duke and UVA. I was walking into enemy territory dressed in blue.
JPJ is an impressive arena. It’s clean and has sharp lines. It’s founding President would have approved, but unlike Cameron its set up and exterior aesthetic doesn’t resemble the iconic campus. By no means does that deminish the impressive structure. There is decent parking but its really not more than a 20 minute walk back to the Rotunda. The outside is covered with glass much like the phone booth (Verizon Center) in DC’s Chinatown. There are plenty of visitor entrance options so there isn’t the bottle neck factor. Once inside, the horseshoe set up lets you know the design had multi-purpose use in mind. We sat far up in section 305. The steep angle of the rows in the higher levels gave us an optimal view of the court. The crowd was genuinely great. The fan base had a lot to pump them up. If your undefeated team is playing primetime, center stage and the four letter mothership is in town to cover the big match up versus Duke and you cant get up for that, then you might want to check for a pulse. My only negative about the set up of JPJ is the restroom availability on the second level. You would expect that at Cameron but at a facility as new as JPJ, there could be more. Plan for long lines that almost take the full halftime to relieve yourself.
At the end of the night, the previously undefeated number two team in college couldn’t withstand a late push by a flurry of Duke 3’s. The crowd left dissapointed but handled it with class. If UVA learns anything from their oppenent, banners are hung in April. They have a legit title contender that will likely pack the place for a long time. I look forward to getting back to the arena and checking out a concert soon in the lower levels.
Overall Grade: A-
Postcards from Charlottesville: