For the second straight home game, the Virginia basketball team spread out the scoring and the visitors couldn’t match it on the scoreboard. A week ago, the UVA powered past Wake Forest in the second half with five double-digit scorers. On Wednesday night a week later, the Hoos duplicated that feat and overwhelmed Notre Dame early en route to a 80-68 win.
The Cavaliers have posted five scorers in double figures four times in the Tony Bennett era per Voice of the Cavaliers Dave Koehn with half of those coming in the last week. Match that firepower with a defense that’s steadily improving this season and Virginia can be tough to beat.
“That is the way it’s always been in my time here,” UVA senior Jay Huff said. “We’ve had numerous guys that can have great games – I might score, like today I scored 18, the next game I may score four. But as long as we have that balance, then it’s not a problem. Different guys step up in different roles and different games and that’s part of the beauty of our team.”
Those 18 points for Huff matched his career high, set in the previous game at Boston College. He was joined by Sam Hauser (15), Kihei Clark (12), and Trey Murphy III (10), the quartet that’s made up the scoring nucleus for this year’s team. In the game against Wake Forest last week, Reece Beekman stepped up as the fifth double-digit scorer. In the encore performance against Notre Dame, Casey Morsell provided the extra offense with 15 points.
With Beekman adding 7 points, 3 steals, and 3 assists and Francisco Caffaro scoring 3 points, the hosts hit 80+ points for the second time this season. That’s a scoring line that makes UVA incredibly successful in recent years. The Cavaliers are 37-1 overall when scoring 80 points or more in the Bennett era.
Virginia did a lot of that work from behind the arc as it got a second win against the Irish this season. That differed from the first meeting when the team hit just 8 of 26 (30.8%) 3’s on the road. The Hoos made 12 of 24 triples (50%) to pile up 36 of their points at the John Paul Jones Arena in the rematch.
That’s where Huff did much of his scoring damage as he made a career high 4 3-pointers on 8 attempts. He added 5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots as well, the eighth time this season in 10 games that he’s had multiple blocks as part of his stat line. The shooting show from Huff opened the game and back-to-back treys later in the half pushed the UVA lead into double figures where it stayed for good as it grew as high as 24 points. All four of his makes came at the top of the key.
“I would probably say that around that area is my favorite spot,” Huff said. “I took a bunch of those [shots] back in my high school days. That is just where they kind of show up in the offense [today] that we’ve been running. So I think that all played a role.”
“It stretches the offense, It’s like [Nate] Laszewski for Notre Dame,” Bennett said. “They play the five and anytime you do that you have to come out. So, it opens the floor for other post-ups or drives. We’re a different team this year, so we’re trying to utilize different guy’s strengths. You know Sam can stretch it, and certainly Jay, but that was nice. There’s real nice ball movement and rhythm threes. That obviously is a something that he can do so. I think it sets up the rest of his game. We say to have balance in your game, and I think that’s what he’s learning to do.”
Murphy and Morsell joined the 3-point party too. That’s not a surprise for Murphy, who leads the team with 23 3-pointers on 49% shooting (23-47). He made 2 of 4 against the Irish and added a pair of dunks as well to get to 10 points. He added 4 assists.
Morsell, meanwhile, made 3 of 3 shots from downtown, including one highly contested one in the corner by Virginia’s bench in the second half. Morsell, who returned to the lineup after missing two games in coronavirus related quarantine, had made only 3 triples for the entire season prior to the game with Notre Dame. The sophomore is now 6 of 17 on the season for a 35% clip, a number that almost doubles his 18% line (15-85) in his freshman season. Morsell, who had 4 rebounds too, scored a couple of buckets on pull-up jumpers as well.
With Huff, Murphy, and Morsell leading the way on the outside, Clark and Hauser took advantage on the inside. Clark scored 12 points to go with a season-high 6 assists as he drove to the basket for buckets or passes repeatedly. Hauser just missed his fourth straight double-double with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and an assist. He gave the Irish all kinds of trouble working from the mid-post area where he made jumpers or used fakes to set up other types of baskets.
Again, the scoring balance helped knock out Notre Dame and it will be tested in the next scheduled game at Clemson. The Tigers are No. 5 nationally right now in defensive scoring efficiency.
“I think that’s important. You have to obviously be able to stretch it and you know I think guys with Casey doing that, guys found their niche,” Bennett said. “We just keep looking for ways. Notre Dame’s been close, they just haven’t been able to get one. And so, now you go against a Clemson team that’ll be fresh and ready. I think they practiced today. They’re athletic and strong and a good team and we’ll have to just be ready. The balance is always good on the offensive end.”
The offense helped disguise a shaky second half defensively, a trend that reappeared in this one after UVA built its big lead. Notre Dame made 12 of 21 shots after halftime to match Virginia’s 43 points in the second frame. The Irish also got to the free throw line where they made 15 of 16 free throws in the half.
Cormac Ryan led his team with 16 points, while Trey Wertz added 13. Laszewski, who torched the Cavaliers in the first meeting with 28, ended up with 12 this time around. Juwan Durham added 10 after posting 19 in the first meeting. Those totals and the second half flurry weren’t enough to overcome the 24-point deficit the visitors faced. Virginia held Notre Dame to 10-of-30 shooting in the first half, which included 1-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. That first half defense marked the third straight half where the Wahoos held the opponent to sub 35% after keeping Boston College below that mark in both halves Saturday.
Bennett continues to push for connected halves like that as the season progresses.
“We drifted into some old habits defensively, that, you know, aren’t going to cut it. And that was disappointing,” Bennett said. “But yes, there was some good, solid defense in the first half, good ball movement. … A couple missed assignments, a lot of guys had defensively in that stretch. Papi Francisco [Caffaro] gave us a nice lift to with his physicality and some passing out of the post. So that was good. And then you know, obviously you saw early on Sam and Jay – and then Kihei did some things down the stretch – but early on those guys were effective that I thought was enough. But again, that part [defensively] always concerns you, but certainly we’ll take it.”