Inside the Numbers: UVA goes five-guard, with interesting results

uva basketballUVA coach Tony Bennett had nothing to lose.

UNC-Wilmington was slicing and dicing the Pack Line, shooting 52.6 percent from the floor, 60 percent from three, hadn’t committed a turnover, and led by 15 with 7:25 left in the first half.

Bennett didn’t have All-ACC Defensive Team stopper Isaiah Wilkins, still struggling from the lingering effects of strep throat that have had him a shell of his usual active shelf for going on three weeks now.

Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite weren’t slowing Devontae Cacok, the guy who shoots 79.9 percent from the field, almost entirely on sprints to the rim on high screen-and-rolls, meaning perimeter defenders were having to slide over to cut off his lanes to the basket, leaving open Seahawks shooters.

The solution that Bennett came up with: going five-guard.

At the least, that would give Virginia another shooter on the other end, but the move was done more with the defense in mind.

Putting a guard on the quick Cacok would allow Cavs defenders on the perimeter to stick with the shooters, taking away the open looks.

And that part of the strategy worked closing out the first half. Wilmington missed its last nine shots from the floor in the final 7:25, committed two turnovers, and created an opening.

The defense turned into offense, as Virginia closed out the half hitting on seven of its last 12 from the field, fueling a 19-3 run that turned the 15-point deficit into a one-point halftime lead.

A funny thing happened in the second half. UNC-Wilmington played the role of bruisers, staying in the game by dominating the boards.

UNC-W would only shoot 44.1 percent in the second half, but an 18-7 advantage in second-chance points would keep the ‘Hawks in the game.

Something funnier, then: Virginia, for a half, resembled an offensive juggernaut.

Would you believe … 46 points in a half of basketball for UVA?

That’s a 92-point game pace, which is otherworldly for a Bennett-coached team.

And how they did it little resembled anything you’ve seen from a Bennett Cavs team.

His bigs – Wilkins, Diakite and Salt – combined to go only 26 minutes, and take two shots from the field, an end-of-first-half missed jumper by Diakite, and a successful alley-oop dunk by Salt in the second half.

And yet Virginia outscored Wilmington in the paint, 28-22, going 12-for-24 on shots at the rim, to the Seahawks’ 11-for-16 effort.

This was done without a single post-up, mind you.

It was all dribble-drives, primarily by London Perrantes and Marial Shayok, Perrantes was 5-for-7 on shots at the rim and 2-of-3 on jumpers, and Shayok was 2-of-3 at the rim and 3-of-6 on jumpers.

The two biggest shots of the game came on dribble drives into the lane from Perrantes and Shayok.

A Perrantes layup with 1:37 to go, and three seconds on the shot clock, extended a UVA lead from three to five, and a short Shayok jumper with 26 seconds to go, and two seconds on the shot clock, extended a two-point Virginia lead to four.

Largely eschewing the mover-blocker offense, the Cavs spread the floor and attacked off the dribble with impunity.

So UVA won the first half with defense, and won the second half with offense.

And for the most part, it was done with a five-guard lineup.

Not sure if that approach can work against Florida or anybody else down the road, but that’s not what’s important right now.

The Cavs live to play another day, and it was because Tony Bennett was willing to throw out the game plan, draw up a new scheme almost literally on his dry-erase board during a media timeout, and trust his guys to make it work.

Column by Chris Graham