Career night for Francisco Caffaro keys UVA win
Francisco Caffaro, before Wednesday, had one career double-digit college game, way back on Dec. 8, 2020, when he had 10 points in 21 minutes in a win over North Carolina.
The 7’1” junior had not, before Wednesday, logged more than 23 minutes in a game, and only four times had he gone over 20 minutes on the floor in a game.
Then starting center Kadin Shedrick picked up his second foul with exactly 17:00 on the clock in the first half of Wednesday night’s ACC matchup with in-state rival Virginia Tech.
Tony Bennett doesn’t have many other options at the five – OK, he literally has no other options at the five.
Papi, as Bennett and Caffaro’s teammates call him, played 16 big minutes in the first half, started the second half, held his own, by and large, against Tech’s leading scorer, Keve Aluma, and keyed the 54-52 win for the ‘Hoos.
Caffaro had a career-high 16 points and nine rebounds in a career-best 31 minutes, and his defense on Aluma in the final 3:13 was pivotal in holding the Hokies scoreless as Virginia rallied from a late four-point deficit.
Caffaro also contributed a free throw and a tough layup, while forcing Aluma into two misses and two turnovers in the closing stretch.
Not a bad night’s work for a guy averaging 3.2 points and 14.7 minutes per game coming in.
“The mindset is always the same. Going in, you got to play hard and do your job,” Caffaro said after the game. “You know how Coach is when somebody gets two early fouls, you usually don’t play as much in the first half, so I’m always ready. Today was more minutes, and I took advantage of it.”
Bennett has been saying since Caffaro’s redshirt freshman season that the big man reminds him of another big who did a lot for the Cavaliers while only scoring three points a night, Jack Salt, whose defense, rebounding and screens earned him valuable minutes on the 2019 national champs.
Salt actually averaged 3.3 points and 16.2 minutes per game for his career, but he also started 106 games, including 29 in the title year, by doing all the little things.
“We need our interiors, Kadin and Papi, and even Jayden [Gardner], to just, and I know it’s not maybe sexy or appealing to say, but you got to be great screeners for us, you have to be as good of a screener, as good of a rebounder, as good of a defender, and then play off of opportunities. As your game improves, then there’ll be some opportunities for scoring. Just to challenge them to serve the team in that role, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Bennett said.
At the outset, Bennett had to be hoping just to steal some minutes with Caffaro on the floor and Shedrick on the bench with foul trouble.
Caffaro did more than steal minutes, going for six points and six rebounds in the first half as Virginia went into the break with a 25-23 lead.
His scoring was needed with Gardner, the team’s leading scorer coming in, averaging 15.0 points per game on 57.4 percent shooting, putting up just two points, on 1-of-7 shooting, with three turnovers.
Bennett rewarded Caffaro for his first-half effort by having Papi on the floor to start the second half, then, as Gardner continued to struggle, going for stretches with Caffaro and Shedrick in the lineup together at the four and five, as part of his strategy to try to limit touches for Aluma.
Aluma, who burned Virginia in the teams’ only matchup last season, a 65-51 Tech win in Blacksburg, in which he went for 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, finished with 22 points in this one, but he needed 20 shots from the field to get them.
“He’s such a difficult matchup for a number of people,” Tech coach Mike Young said. “Caffaro and Shedrick did a good job with him and were very physical. I thought it was a little more physical than we’re accustomed to, let’s put it that way.”
That was Young’s way of complaining about his team only getting to the line three times, while Virginia was 11-of-16.
Part of that was shot selection – the Hokies hoisted 37 jumpers on the night, 19 from three and 18 from two, as Virginia was attacking the paint, to the tune of a 20-13 edge in shots at the rim on the night.
Caffaro is all about paint – he was 5-of-7 from the floor, all of those shots in the paint, all but one at the rim.
He also got to the foul line – going 6-of-10 at the stripe on the night.
It all added up to 16 points from Papi, on a night when Gardner finished with just four, on 2-of-10 shooting.
This is the kind of thing that makes Virginia better in the long run. You’re not going to expect Caffaro to go for double-digits every night or anything, but just knowing that he’s capable, and growing more confident, is a big plus.
“I like the way he’s played throughout the season,” said guard Armaan Franklin, who had 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the win. “He is getting a lot better and getting a lot more touches, getting a lot more minutes, actually. He’s working on his finishing a lot, and works on it every day. He just continues to work hard, and I’m proud of him.”
“He’s coming and getting extra time, and he’s purposeful,” said Bennett, by way of offering praise, the Bennett way. “He’s one of the most fun-loving young men, I was going to say kid, but young men, on our team, he really is, and he always plays hard. It’s new to him. He has not played a lot. So, now he’s getting to play more.”
Story by Chris Graham