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Coup, COVID, hoops: #22 UVA pulls out win on stressful day

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UVA players and coaches observe the national anthem. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Today, Wednesday, Jan. 6, Year of Our Lord 2021, was about a lot more than a college basketball game between UVA and Wake Forest.

Tony Bennett acknowledged as much after his team’s 70-61 win.

“There’s certainly things bigger than the game,” said Bennett, who, credit due, is paid to focus, laser focus, on hoops, not an attempted coup d’etat a couple of hours up Route 29.

His team faced adversity in the game – trailing by double-digits in the first half, giving up a ghastly 39 points in the first 20 minutes.

This after having to have postponed a Top 25 matchup with in-state rival Virginia Tech over the weekend because a staffer tested positive for COVID-19 – yeah, that’s still going on right now, too!

Bennett had to coach his team the past few days without his two right-hand men – Brad Soderberg and Jason Williford, who are both his 1as.

“We have a lot of things we had to deal with, myself and Ronnie Weidman and Johnny Carpenter as the coaches. Ronnie is our operations guy, Johnny’s been our video coordinator, and they did a great job of practice all week. Even Bach (Erich Bacher), our esteemed sports information director, was helping us out a little at practice,” Bennett said

The team was also without three players – Kody Stattmann, who we learned in the hour before the tip is sidelined with a non-COVID-19 cardiac issue, and Austin Katstra and Casey Morsell, who we presume were out due to COVID-19 contact tracing.

It was already going to be tough enough.

“Obviously events that happened today, you know, there’s a lot of stuff going on, but we just talked about, let’s try to take a step in the right direction,” Bennett said.

It took a while.

A Wake team that had to miss more than a month of scheduled games due to COVID-19 issues, and lost ugly at Georgia Tech over the weekend, came out ready to take over the basketball world, hitting five of its first six from three, and appeared ready to run away and hide.

The Deacs led 39-34 at the break, but then Bennett and his erstwhile staff got things under control.

“I thought we adjusted well. I thought the ball pressure picked up,” said Bennett, crediting junior point guard Kihei Clark’s defense with setting the tone.

“Kihei decided to really pick up the ball, and everybody with, just some adjustments, I think that helped, really just stepped up,” Bennett said.

“Obviously, we didn’t have a lot of numbers in the rotation, but we played tough enough in the second half. We responded well to adversity and being shorthanded and, you know, a very good second half. from my standpoint.”

Story by Chris Graham

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