Playing Virginia isn’t a walk in the park. The Cavaliers grind you down on defense and move you around repeat. Just when you need a break, however, a nearby bench isn’t inviting either.
Yale saw that first hand Sunday at the John Paul Jones Arena. The Bulldogs battled through 25 minutes before UVA’s depth took its toll in a 62-38 win. Marial Shayok and Kyle Guy pumped in points, while Mamadi Diakite whirled around and blocked shots to lead the second unit carved out a 34-11 advantage from the bench.
“Both kids off the bench were tremendous for them,” Bulldogs coach James Jones said. “Guy and Marial both were really good. They scored 27 points between the two of them, and Guy hit some big shots. We tried to go zone because we couldn’t stop them in the halfcourt man to man. … We couldn’t guard either one of those guys off the curl screen.”
Jones had reason to be impressed with Shayok and Guy. That duo played a huge role in busting a competitive game open through the middle of the second half. Virginia led 37-33 when Yale’s Anthony Dallier scored with 15:16 remaining in the game. Over the next 8:19 of action, however, the Cavaliers cranked out a 16-0 surge to lead by 20.
Shayok and Guy stood at the center of that outburst with 14 of the 16 points. Shayok started it off with back-to-back baskets, including a strong baseline drive against Yale’s zone to get a layup. Guy emerged next with two straight 3-pointers that quickly pushed the lead to 14 points. On the first, he caught a pass from Shayok in the corner and knocked down the shot. On the second, the Cavaliers tossed a baseline out of bounds wrinkle at the Bulldogs to get him free again. The duo added one more bucket each during the key run before Darius Thompson capped it off with a breakout layup.
Shayok finished with 15 points to lead all scorers, while Guy added 12 points of his own. Thompson chipped in 11 points and 3 assists. Virginia also got 8 points, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers from London Perrantes.
“We were talking about how Mamadi and Kyle brought life off the bench, and I think Marial obviously brings a scoring punch,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. ”He’s a hard-playing defender and offensively, he’s aggressive. I like that. You could easily start a number of guys with this group, but Marial has really done a good job and brought some life when we needed it. I think he got some stuff going for us.”
While Shayok and Guy sparked the offense, particularly during the separating surge, Diakite jolted the defense. The final box score credited the redshirt freshman with 4 blocked shots and 3 of them came during the 16-0 rush. He blocked the first of the trio at 13:34. At 10:31, he blocked a shot that went out of bounds to give Yale another chance. A mere 8 seconds later, however, Diakite swatted away a layup attempt that led to a shot clock violation.
That last sequence brought a sustained roar from the JPJ crowd, while Diakite tapped his head to show that it was a shot clock violation and then clapped happily on the way down the court.
”I think the team needed me to step up and block more shots. That is what I did,” Diakite said. ”It is more exciting to me to block people, better than scoring. Scoring, that comes along with time, so I am not really worrying about whether I have five, two, one point, or zero points in a game. It is okay as long as I play defense and I can contribute for the team to win. That would be of great satisfaction to me.”
Diakite, along with Wilkins, Jack Salt, and Jarred Reuter held down all of the post minutes just two days after Virginia announced that Austin Nichols had been dismissed from the program. Wilkins and Salt started. Wilkins tallied 5 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot in 27 minutes, while Salt posted 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 blocked shot in 20 minutes. Reuter checked in as the first post sub and ended up with 2 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes. Diakite’s final line landed at 5 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots in 18 minutes.
The Cavaliers still kept a planned redshirt in place for true freshman Jay Huff, though Bennett sounded like that remained under evaluation with the new look of the roster. As for the Nichols’ decision, Bennett weighed out his thoughts after the game.
”As a coach, you don’t want to do hard things, unless you think it’s the right thing for your team and for a young man involved,” Bennett said. “It’s just one of those situations. We always talk about there’s a standard we have. Certainly showing compassion and grace, but there’s also accountability and truth that comes with every situation and with this case, that’s how we dealt with it with Austin.”
“I love Austin,” Bennett continued. “My hope is that this will be a turning point for him and he’ll take the right steps. Basketball’s not a part of it here at Virginia. So my hope is that he’ll take those steps. But it’s always hard. A father disciplines his children, sometimes you have to do that. But it’s a chance for the guys in the program now to tie it tighter and come together. We always talk about that.”
“That’s the stuff you don’t like about coaching, but that’s the necessary stuff that’s far more impactful and lasting to the guys in the program, those decisions you make,” Bennett concluded. “Hopefully it’ll make a difference in the big picture. I don’t have it all figured and I’ve made so many mistakes in my own life, but I’m hoping that we’re doing the right things, the wise things for Austin’s case, for the young men in our program and that we’ll keep taking the right steps forward. I just want to hopefully lead them well and our staff and go forward. But yeah, not easy, not at all. Been hard, for sure.”