For much of the season, the Virginia basketball team has relied on its defense to lead the way to wins. It flipped the script on Wednesday night against Boston College. The Cavaliers put together a sizzling offensive performance with five players in double figures to dispatch the Eagles, 78-65.
When the two teams met in early January, the Hoos lost 60-53. The 25-point turn-around offensively helped split the season series and pushed Tony Bennett’s crew to 18-7 on the season. BC coach Jim Christian said the difference for Virginia is easily noticeable.
“I give us credit that we kept competing but [Virginia] is playing really well,” Christian said. “That was as well, the last couple games in terms of how they’re executing and what they do. They’re just playing with so much more confidence. The same shots are open there’s just a little more pop in their step, a little more pop in their shot. It’s why Tony’s a great coach.”
While the Hoos may not have fully solved their inconsistency issues on offense, the signs have been there of late. They’ve scored at least 60 points in six of the last nine games. The total Wednesday night represented their highest output of the year and the second time in four games that they cracked 70 on the scoreboard.
Certainly comparing the loss at Boston College on Jan. 7 to the win in the rematch shows a stark difference. In the road loss, Virginia managed just 32.7% shooting with 17 total made shots. That included only three made 3-pointers on 18.8% shooting. Fast forward to the John Paul Jones Arena and the numbers turned out dramatically different. The Wahoos made 13 shots in each half and lit up the scoreboard on 57.8% shooting. From behind the arc, they hit 10 of 17 attempts for 58.8% shooting. The Hoos barely missed in the second half when they made 13 of 19 shots for 68.4% shooting.
The strong night offensively came through a balanced attack. All five starters scored in double figures and all six players that took more than one shot finished at or above 50% shooting. Braxton Key and Kihei Clark led the way with 17 points each. Key, who made 6 of 7 shots and 5 of 8 free throws, added 6 rebounds, a career-high 4 blocked shots, and 3 assists. Clark, who made 6 of 12 shots and 4 of 4 free throws, posted 8 assists with only 2 turnovers as well.
Tomas Woldetensae and Jay Huff scored 14 points each. Woldetensae, who made 5 of 10 shots overall and 4 of 8 3-pointers, added 2 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 steal. Huff, who helped the Hoos start fast with 11 points before intermission, made 5 of 7 shots overall and 3 of 5 triples. He also tallied 8 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, and 1 assist.
Mamadi Diakite rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points. He made 2 of 4 shots and 6 of 8 free throws. He had 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, and 2 steals as well. Diakite moved into sole possession of second place on the program’s all-time blocks list with 149 in his career. UVA also picked up 6 points from Kody Stattmann, who made 2 of 3 3-point attempts.
The Cavaliers also had 17 assists vs. 9 turnovers. They held a huge advantage at the free throw line where they made 16 of 22 attempts vs. a 1 of 2 night at the stripe for the Eagles.
“We’re just doing a great job on finding open guys. Did a good job at making shots tonight,” Key said. “We’ve been working on more individual work to start and finish practice. Guards are shooting on the move more, our wings are shooting off post-ups and on the elbows, bigs are working down in the post more one-on-one. It all paid off tonight.”
It won’t be surprising to UVA fans to hear that Coach Bennett steered some attention to defense despite the solid night on offense. It was warranted. Boston College shot 45.9% for the game thanks in large part to picking apart the Cavaliers after halftime. The visitors made 56.3% of their shots (18 of 32) in the second half with 5 3-pointers in the mix. That came after shooting just 34.5% in the first half (10-29).
BC’s Nik Popovic got it going in particular by making 6 of 8 shots after halftime. That propelled him to a game-high 22 points to go with 7 rebounds. Jay Heath added 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting to go with 4 assists, while Jairus Hamilton finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
The second half from Boston College marked the third time in the last four games that the opponent shot at least 50% in one of the halves. That’s enough of a trend to give Bennett pause and he cautioned his team to not put too much stock into the offense’s surge against the Eagles.
“I do think we are trying to run good stuff, and we are a little smoother and more efficient with it, but it certainly makes a big difference when you make some threes. I thought we had a decent balance, like we did last game, but you never assume anything offensively,” Bennett said. “That was my message to the guys. This is some really good offense, but whatever you do, don’t get too comfortable. I thought defensively in the second half we were not at our best. This game was great, our offense kind of carried us but we talked about not getting too comfortable. We were more efficient, more guys scoring and I think there is a comfort level in the last few games that has showed, even against Louisville.”
With Wednesday’s result, Virginia now has six wins in its last seven games. That streak has moved the Hoos to the right side of the bubble when it comes to NCAA Tournament projections. They’re sitting in the fourth spot in the ACC standings in the race for a double bye for the ACC Tournament as well. The Cavaliers are two games ahead of NC State in the league and only two games back in the loss column from Louisville, Duke, and Florida State.
UVA wants to keep that momentum going with the next test coming at Pittsburgh on Saturday at noon.
“Every game is big at this point,” Key said. “We feel that we can win out the rest of the regular season and that is one of our goals right now. But we have to take it one game at a time and obviously when you play against a team that you lost to, whether you think you can beat them or not, you want to go out and get some revenge.”