Championship pedigree shines for Virginia in ACC win

uva basketballVirginia flexed its defensive muscle here Saturday afternoon and landed a decisive knockout punch against Virginia Tech in overpowering the Hokies 65-39 in John Paul Jones Arena.

In this season’s first matchup between state rivals, the game simply boiled down to which team was able to dictate the flow of the game, and in this case it was Virginia from wire-to-wire.

Virginia suffocated the ACC’s leading three-point shooting Hokies, to the tune of a dismal 4-of-25 from beyond the arc (16 percent).

The Cavaliers jumped out to a 30-17 lead at intermission. Landers Nolley II had 15 of the Hokies first-half points, but was held to only three points in the closing 20 minutes.

Virginia’s defensive effort almost overshadowed a brilliant performance by sophomore point guard Kihei Clark, who sliced-and-diced his way through the Hokie defense almost at will.

Clark finished the contest with a career-high 18 points, including 12 points during a Cavalier run that early in the second half that pushed the margin to 42-23 with just over 14 minutes left. Virginia Tech all but raised a white flag of surrender.

Clark continuously pushed the ball to the basket on an assortment of dazzling dribble-drives and hesitation moves that the Hokies simply had no answerers for.

Braxton Key continued his resurgence as well for Virginia. Key, now down to a splint on his left wrist, scored 18 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting.

Afterwards Key said playing with just a splint was a big difference.

“It definitely gives me a better fell for the ball, I can catch it better and the palm of my hand actually covers the ball,“ noted Key in the UVA postgame presser.

Virginia Tech, which has gone with a five-guard lineup this season, entered the game connecting on 39.4 percent of its shots from behind the line. Today, Virginia’s game plan was to tightly guard the line, and it affected Tech from the opening tip.

The Hokies missed their first seven three-point shots, and Virginia sprinted out to an early 16-6 margin. Tech forward P.J. Horne, who entered the tilt shooting almost 43 percent from three, suffered a miserable afternoon in Charlottesville, going 0-of-9 from beyond the arc.

For the first time this season the 2019 national championship pedigree may have had an impact on the outcome of the game. Today Virginia did what it was supposed to do: defend its home floor and never let the opponent even start to believe it had a chance to win.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett‘s postgame comments even had a familiar tone.

“We were locked in,” said Bennett. “Did they miss some open shots? Yes. But did we make them shoot contested shots the majority of the game? Yes,” added Bennett.

Déjà vu.

So, the Cavaliers used their defense to fuel the offense. Sounds right. Maybe the 2019-2020 version of Virginia basketball may have finally allowed themselves to look to the rafters in JPJ and gaze upon the banner proudly hanging, and remembered how it got there.

Story by Scott German

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