Bennett’s bark, or his bite, more important in win at UNC?

uva coach tony bennettYou heard on the ESPN broadcast last night, and have been reading today, about how UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett lit into his team during a second-half media timeout, and how that keyed the ‘Hoos down the stretch on their way to a comeback win at UNC.

I won’t dismiss or discount the value of a coach yelling at his team. I will say that it wasn’t just Tony Bennett yelling at his team that turned things around.

And by my accounting, it was actually more about strategery, specifically, paring down his rotation, from eight to six.

Bennett started Kihei Clark at point, the thinking there being, Clark, a solid on-ball defender, would give Carolina point guard Coby White fits.

Clark, looking at the box score, played 27 minutes last night, but then looking at the play by play, he subbed out at the 11:32 second-half media timeout, and didn’t return.

Meaning: Bennett decided that his thinking going in about Clark on White wasn’t working.

White, to that stage, had 15 points in the game, shooting 6-of-12 from the floor, 3-of-7 from three-point range, with one assist and two turnovers.

Not working at all, is a better way to put it.

As Bennett was yelling at his team during the media timeout, he was subbing Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter back in, for Clark and starting center Jack Salt.

Hunter, at 6’7”, was put on White, at 6’5”, the idea now being, you have to assume, Hunter’s length would give White trouble, after 27 minutes of being able to see over the 5’9” Clark.

Virginia trailed 49-43 at the 11:32 mark. Again, White had the 15 points, was shooting 6-of-10.

With Hunter as the primary defender on him the rest of the way, White would score just two more points, on a pair of free throws at the 9:25 mark, and miss his last seven shots from the floor, four of them from three.

North Carolina had scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting in the first 8:28 of the second half, up to that 11:32 media timeout.

The Tar Heels would score just 12 on 4-of-20 shooting in the final 11:32.

White being neutralized was one key factor there.

I noted that the rotation was pared from eight to six at the 11:32 media timeout, and that Clark had subbed out, as had Salt.

Salt wouldn’t return, either, as Bennett went with Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff at the five in a four-guard lineup, alongside Hunter, Guy, Ty Jerome and Braxton Key.

Diakite and Huff essentially split the minutes, but of note is that Huff was on the floor for the game’s most important stretch.

The 7’1” redshirt sophomore subbed in for Diakite at the 6:52 mark, with UVA still down 55-51.

Which is to say, the first chess move by Bennett, putting Hunter as the primary defender on White, had slowed UNC’s roll, limiting the Heels to six points in that stretch of 5:40, but the margin was still at four.

Huff would play the next 5:54, subbing out for Diakite with 58 seconds left, and Virginia up 67-61.

That’s a 16-6 ‘Hoos run over that 5:54.

Huff only scored two points over that stretch, with a single defensive rebound, and a steal.

The bucket turned out to be the one that would put UVA ahead to stay, a layup on a dish from Hunter with 3:12 to go, on a nice dive to the hoop when Huff’s defender went to double Hunter on a dribble-drive to the rim.

You could argue that Huff just happened to be on the floor while good things were going on around him, but games involving two Top 10 teams and coaches the level of Tony Bennett and Roy Williams don’t turn on things just happening.

Huff’s unique skillset on the offensive end draws attention even when he isn’t hitting shots. He’s the exceedingly rare seven-footer who is a threat from three and in the mid-range, and as such has to be accounted for on the offensive end in a way that Jack Salt, whose range goes out to about three feet, give or take, can never bring to that side of the floor.

Where Huff has had to earn his minutes has been on the defensive end.

The Virginia Pack Line is predicated on help, and breaks down if all five guys on the floor aren’t doing their part.

Huff was on the floor to dive to the rim on the Hunter dribble penetration because he was doing his part on the defensive end to justify Bennett having him out there.

UNC scored six points in that nearly six-minute stretch as UVA’s offense started to click with Huff part of that mix.

So, to the yelling. Our colleague, Jerry Ratcliffe, wrote about Bennett specifically addressing the turnover bug in his rant at the 11:32 media timeout.

At that stage, the ‘Hoos had turned the ball over 10 times.

They wouldn’t turn the ball over again, so, Bennett barking at his guys about turnovers worked, or, at least, we’ll credit that with working.

The rest of what happened was Bennett taking another bite at strategy.

Column by Chris Graham



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