Virginia Basketball Double Bonus: Georgia Tech

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Virginia won on the road.
Jay Huff scored 17 points at Georgia Tech. ~ Mike Ingalls

The Virginia basketball team snapped a three-game losing streak with a 63-58 road win at Georgia Tech on Saturday. To get back to the winner’s circle, they put together a balanced scoring sheet thanks in part to a shorter rotation. Five players logged 32 or more minutes and all five produced at least 7 points in the victory.

Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite led the way with 17 points each, while Braxton Key added 10 to land in double figures too. Tomas Woldetensae knocked down a trio of 3-pointers to tally 9 points and Kihei Clark had 7 points too. UVA also recorded more assists than turnovers in this game by a count of 17 to 12. Clark and Key powered that effort with 13 combined helpers against the Yellow Jackets.

With a quick turnaround to NC State, let’s look at the latest Double Bonus.

Is Jay Huff Hitting His Stride?

It’s hard not to start with Jay Huff. A fan favorite from his recruitment all the way through today, him playing well seems to delight Wahoos any time it happens. Over the last three games, Huff has started to show bubbles of consistency and he had a major impact on the victory at Georgia Tech. (This is a good spot to say “I told you so” maybe?) Whenever Huff checked out of the game – and that wasn’t often since he played 34 minutes – it was noticeable.

The stat line part of the equation was obvious. The 17 points mentioned above came with 8 rebounds, 6 blocked shots, and 2 assists attached. That’s a monster outing for the redshirt junior. He set the tone early in both halves. At the start of the game, he had two offensive rebound buckets for UVA’s first points. In the first three minutes of the second half, he slammed home a dunk off a Kihei Clark assist and blocked away a shot on defense.

Huff was also good late and the Hoos needed it in this one. When a one-time 14-point lead dropped all the way to 48-46 in the final eight minutes, he nailed a 3-pointer at the top of the key to stop a 9-0 GT run. With the lead still at 53-48, he hit another jumper to push things out to a three-possession lead with 3:07 to go.

UVA coach Tony Bennett had this to say about Huff’s play: “That’s the third game in a row where he’s really played very solid. He gave us continuous effort on the glass, he bothered shots. I thought he and Kihei [Clark] were terrific the whole game, minus Kihei’s free throws at the end. Everyone chipped in at different times, but specifically Jay, he really gave us a lift rim-protecting.”

Indeed, it marked the third straight game where Huff played well for the Hoos. Against Syracuse, he posted 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots in 41 minutes of action. Against Florida State, he had 4 points and 7 rebounds. Then came the GT line. With the exception of the scoring total against FSU – a game where he only took two shots – that’s the steadiness that UVA fans are looking for from Huff. Over the three games, he’s averaged 12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocked shots. He’s also soaked up 33 minutes per game, which would seem a bit high but for a team without as much depth, it might be necessary.

For the season, Huff now has 11 games with 9+ points, 10 games with 6+ rebounds, and 6 games with 2+ blocked shots. Huff leads the team with 26 blocked shots and a 60% shooting percentage (minimum 10 attempts) and is second in rebounds with 106. His offensive rating checks in at 115.6 with a defensive rating of 79.8 (points scored and points allowed per 100 possession).

One interesting note on the blocked shots is just how good that looks on a 100 possessions basis. He’s averaging 4.1 blocks per 100 possessions and that’s really strong among Bennett-era players. Isaiah Wilkins, who is third in Cavalier history with 141 blocked shots, posted 4.7 blocked shots per 100 as a freshman. Mamadi Diakite is about to overtake Wilkins with 139 career blocks and his best per 100 year was as a freshman with 5.8 blocks per 100. Assane Sene, who is tied for eighth all-time with 108 blocks, posted 3.8 per 100 as his best season. Darion Atkins, who is 10th all time with 102 blocks, landed at 4.5 blocks per 100 his first two seasons at Virginia. Mike Tobey, who is just outside the top 10 all time with 101 blocks, had his best season as sophomore with 3.9 per 100.

Beyond all the numbers talk, however, is just how much more fluid Huff is looking lately. He’s able to hedge on ball screens without fouling and still recover into a decent position after that defense. He’s not getting shoved around quite as much on post-up defense. He’s not fouling at as high a rate as earlier in his career. Plus, he’s providing a boost around the rim with putbacks, alley-oops, or just the threat of either. While Huff might not be a great matchup for mega small ball teams, he’s putting himself in position to be an any lineup option at times.

That could all be due to experience. Huff is now up to 841 minutes in his career and there seems to be leap at around 800 minutes and again around 1,000 minutes for Virginia players under Bennett. It will be interesting to watch how Huff continues to develop down the stretch.

Steady Is The Way

While Jay Huff has been more steady lately, it’s hard to ignore just how much that word describes Braxton Key after he produced another stat-stuffing line against Georgia Tech. Key had 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in the winning effort. Plus, he’s rock solid with position defense while also being active enough on that end to create some turnovers or tough shots for opponents too.

Of course, that’s par for the course for Key. He’s averaging 10.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.7 steals this season with much of that coming despite a broken left wrist that caused him to miss three games (It was closer to four since he played just 7 test it out minutes against Stony Brook. If you change his averages to be over 13 games while taking out the single SB rebound, it becomes 11.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 steals).

Key’s consistency is easy to spot too. In the 13 games he’s played regular minutes, he’s scored fewer than 7 points just once (2 against Arizona State) and snared fewer than 6 rebounds just once (2 against FSU). He’s had just three games without at least one assist. Keep in mind, that’s despite playing 7 of the 13 games with a cast or splint of some sort. The rebounding numbers are truly impressive. Going from game one to game 14, it looks like this: 10-10-9-6-7-8-1-5-7-10-8-11-2-6.

Over the course of his career at Alabama and UVA, Key has put up 949 points and 631 rebounds so he’s in the neighborhood of a 1,000-700 career. For his per-40 minute stats, Key has averaged 11.1 points or better and 7.6 rebounds or better in all four years.

Steady indeed.

Virginia won on the road.
Tomas Woldetensae lines up a shot. ~ Mike Ingalls

Range Finder

Obviously, 3-point shooting has been a major storyline for the Hoos this season. They enter Monday’s game at 26.7% shooting from downtown and that ranks 345th nationally.

So it’s easy to spot when someone is resetting the expectations a little bit. Enter Tomas Woldetensae.

Woldetensae came in from junior college after the early departures of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome to try to help the depth situation at the guard spots. At Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, he averaged 17.3 points, made 103 3-pointers, and shot 47.6% from behind the arc in his second season of action. The transition to ACC basketball, a deeper 3-point line that moved back this year, and offseason surgery on his shooting hand (he wasn’t cleared to use that left hand again until mid June), however, proved to be a slower process than any Hoos hoped.

Still, the transfer has steadily been making more of his looks. He’s up to 20-of-61 3-point shooting (32.8%), which ranks third behind only Kihei Clark (36.7%) and Mamadi Diakite (35.3%) from behind the line. It’s been a dramatic rise from where he started.

In his first seven games, Woldetensae made just 3 of 21 triples (14.3%) with a low mark of 0-6 against Vermont. In the nine games from North Carolina to Georgia Tech, however, he has made 17 of 40 3-pointers (42.5%). It hasn’t been a perfect nine games with two notable bank-in 3’s and a low point of 2-9 against Syracuse, but he’s made 42.8% or more of this trifectas in five of the nine games with at least three attempts in all five of those games. He went 3-4 against UNC and FSU, 2-3 against Stony Brook, 2-4 against Navy, and 3-7 against GT.

That’s given the Wahoos some much needed score balance. He has scored at least 6 points in six of the last nine games, again dating back to the Dec. 8 home win against UNC.

For those that think that Coach Bennett always shifts to defense first, the last three games may be a sign that he’ll allow some concessions in order to get some more offense going. Over the last three games – after the shooting improvements – Woldetensae has logged 26, 32, and 32 minutes respectively. While he’s not as good an overall defender as Kody Stattmann or on the ball as Casey Morsell, Woldetensae is providing more potential points. His minutes have gone up as a result on a team that really needs some spacing offensively.

Interestingly, that three-game increase coincides with more minutes for Jay Huff as well. By playing Huff and Mamadi Diakite together, it provides some rim protection to help erase some defensive issues if Woldetensae has them in games. In turn, his potential to space the floor with shooting helps them find more room in the paint. Over these three games, a small sample size to be sure, Huff and Diakite have teamed up for 29, 20, and 34 points.

It will be interesting to see if this is all a sign of a lineup settling in or just a stretch of the season where things clicked.

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