ACC Tournament Notes: Isaiah Wilkins Adds His Touch To Virginia Win

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Virginia has won 29 games this season.
Isaiah Wilkins celebrates the Hoos’ ACC Tournament win against Louisville. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

BROOKLYN – Five players scored in double figures Thursday in the Virginia basketball team’s 75-58 ACC Tournament win against Louisville. Senior Isaiah Wilkins wasn’t one of them, but he kept doing Isaiah Wilkins things.

Two plays captured that as well as any could in the first half.

Just ahead of the under-8 minute media timeout, UVA led 24-16 and was in the midst of what became a 24-6 surge to take control of the game. At that point, however, the run stood at 12-3. Louisville Anas Mahmoud stuffed a Kyle Guy reverse layup attempt, a potential momentum generator in and of itself.

The Cardinals had a chance to really light a fuse though when Ray Spalding appeared to get out ahead of the defense on a rim run right down the middle of the floor. Getting those kinds of baskets against the Hoos, of course, are few and far between. A pass sailed through the air, but just before Spalding could cleanly catch it and hammer it home, along came Wilkins in a dead sprint. The stats don’t credit Wilkins with anything on that play, but his presence was enough to cause Spalding to miss the dunk and the lead continued to grow from there.

A few minutes later, Wilkins showed up in the middle of another hustle play. Guy missed a shot near the basket, but Wilkins somehow got his hands on the ball and then tiptoed along the end line before slinging the ball away to avoid a turnover. Guy chased that toss down along the sideline and saved it for a second time, which gave the Cavaliers an extra chance. The possession ended with another Wilkins’ signature play – an extra pass on the interior that led to a Jack Salt layup and a 31-19 lead.

By the end of the day, Wilkins owned a very Wilkins-like stat line: seven points, six rebounds, two blocked shots, one steal, and one assist. With those numbers, he moved into sole possession of 18th on UVA’s all-time rebounding list with 618 boards in his career. He also upped his season blocks total to 140. He’s now eight blocks behind Chris Alexander for what would be a second-place tie behind Ralph Sampson’s other-worldly 462 swatted shots.

Blocked Shots

Speaking of blocked shots, Louisville always presents a challenge in that category this season. The Cardinals blocked 10 shots against Florida State on Wednesday and entered the UVA game with 202 on the season. Virginia, however, had avoided the block party in the first two meetings when the Cards tallied one in the first game and two in the second.

The Hoos kept that trend going in the ACC Tournament. Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud turned away two shots in the game to up his season total to 99, but those were the only two blocks of the day. Wilkins avoid the trap against Ray Spalding a couple of times with jump stop moves that included a fake or two before releasing the shot.

”Shot fake til I can’t no more – those are some big dudes,” Wilkins said.

Hall Continues Aggressive Play

Way back during preseason media day, redshirt senior Devon Hall said he expected this year’s team to share the scoring load but that he would be aggressive in hunting his shot. That’s certainly how it has played out all season long. He has averaged 11.9 points despite taking the third most shots on the team. That average comes from repeated efficiency from 46.3% shooting overall to 44.9% shooting on 3-pointers to 89.3% shooting on free throws.

When Louisville cut what had been a double-digit Virginia lead down to four points midway through the second half, Hall made sure to step forward again for his team. Following six points from the Hoos, he made a late-clock runner in the paint that made it 64-52 and then added another tough scooping layup for a 66-54 lead on the next trip.

Hall said he knew he could step forward for his team this season due to the work he put in this offseason and throughout his career.

“Just trust in myself and having confidence in myself,” Hall said. “I’ve been in those spots before. I worked my butt off. Just being confident, taking it to the rim and being aggressive.”

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Deng’s Day

The Cardinals’ Deng Adel is one of the tougher covers in the league for defenses. At 6’7” with 6’9.5” wing span, he’s able to create shots for himself out of Louisville’s offensive movement. This season, Adel has scored in double figures in 30 of his team’s 31 games and averaged 15.4 points per game. That leads the Cards’ roster.

In the first two games against Virginia, Adel got loose for 18 points in Charlottesville and 15 points in Louisville. During the second meeting, he caused a lot of problems by getting downhill against the Pack-Line defense. In the ACC Tournament showdown, Adel posted 13 points on the strength of three 3-pointers (3-6) and four free throws (4-4) but UVA seemed to keep him from causing as many problems during the game. He only carved out nine shot attempts.

“In the first half, he was lining us up with his hesitation and shot,” Hall said. “I think we did a much better job in the second half getting a hand up on his shot. He’s really good, though. Long too. Once he raises up, he’s got a clean window to the rim.”

More From Mamadi

Cavalier forward Mamadi Diakite put together another solid outing for the Hoos in the win. Diakite scored 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go with four rebounds in just 17 minutes.

That continued what has been a late-season surge for the sophomore. He’s posted nine or more points in four of the last five games. During those four games with productive scoring, Diakite has made
These last four games with the three nine-point outings, he’s made 68% (17 of 25) of his shot attempts.

“Mamadi’s really talented and skilled so we try to get it him down there on the block so he can make some plays,” Hall said. ”Obviously blocking shots. He’s got to tighten in certain areas and not make mental mistakes, but he did a heck of a job today.”

More ACC Tournament Notables

  • The Cavaliers won a game in the ACC Tournament for the fifth straight year. That ties the program’s best streak from 1970-74.
  • Virginia scored 42 points in the paint, its second best outing of the season (44 at Georgia Tech), and won that category 42-16 against Louisville.
  • Worth Quoting: Devon Hall on UVA’s five double-digit scorers in the win – “We play together. It’s always been like that. If a guy is open, we get it to him. If a guy has a hot hand, we find him.”
  • Clemson, which lost 61-36 to Virginia in Charlottesville on Jan. 23, won the second game of the day at the Barclays Center, taking down Boston College 90-82.
  • Clemson’s Elijah Thomas has a game-high 12 rebounds against Boston College. He’s posted 10 games with 10-or-more boards this season.
  • Worth Quoting Too: Clemson coach Brad Brownell on facing Virginia – “What’s different about their defense? I mean, they just do everything really well. They’re unbelievably sound. Tony [Bennett] obviously is as good a coach as there is in our game. I think sometimes Virginia, because they play slow on offense, they don’t get enough credit for how good their players are. I think sometimes everybody gets so into their scheme, but you don’t win 17 out of 18 ACC games unless you have really good players. And they’re big, they’re athletic, and they’re obviously very sound fundamentally. So they just do a lot of really good things. They’re difficult to play against.”
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