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Duke — unstoppable when it get the outside shot going — does just that against Virginia

By Zach Pereles

uva basketballCredit Virginia for making adjustments. Credit Duke for overcoming them.

Sometimes, in basketball, things just go “right.”

In most games, a player or two steps up. But when things go right, several players step up. Several players hit shots they haven’t hit throughout the season.

On Saturday night, things went right for Duke.

Virginia caught the Blue Devils on the wrong night.

Duke had shot 30.8 percent from three this season heading into Saturday’s showdown in Charlottesville, among the worst rates in the nation. Virginia, on the other hand, came into the contest shooting 39.4 percent from three, among the best rates in the nation. Just as impressively, Virginia held opponents to 24.7 percent from deep.

That was the best number in the nation. No one was better.

But on Saturday, the talented Blue Devils flipped the switch, turning their biggest weakness into their biggest strength. The visitors made 13 of 21 threes (61.9 percent), by far their best performance in that area this season, en route to an impressive 81-71 win.

Virginia caught the Blue Devils on the wrong night.

The onslaught started early. The Blue Devils hit their first five three-pointers, all by their star freshman trio of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. It was Barrett, though, who was particularly impressive. He had three of those early triples and finished with six deep balls. Before Saturday, he had never made more than four in a single game and was shooting just 31.4 percent from beyond the arc. Reddish — a highly touted shooter out of high school who has struggled at times as a Blue Devil — knocked down five of eight.

The Cavaliers had a sound gameplan. After struggling to keep Duke out of the paint in the teams’ first meeting, Virginia did a much better job inside against the Blue Devils, who came into the game third in the nation in two-point shooting percentage.

In January, the Blue Devils beat the Cavaliers inside. In February, they beat them outside.

“I thought we were a little slow to our closeouts,” Tony Bennett said following the game. “We really tried to keep them out of the lane and jam the lane, and we probably over-corrected in terms of that.”

Virginia caught the Blue Devils on the wrong night.

But it’s not just that Virginia caught the Blue Devils on the wrong night. Truth be told, the Cavaliers had plenty chances of which they couldn’t take advantage.

The Cavaliers fell down as many as 14 early but scratched and clawed their way back into things with a strong final 5:35 to the first half, the only stretch in which the Cavaliers truly played their brand of basketball. The hosts hit seven of their final eight shots of the half, with Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy finally breaking through after a slow start. Virginia went into the half trailing 39-35.

“I think we are a team that doesn’t get fazed very easily,” Guy said. “Obviously when they hit five [three-pointers] in a row and seven out of eight, it is hard because it is an uphill battle all game, and I think that we just need to do what we do best and we will do better throughout the year.”

Virginia never got any closer. Duke built its lead back up to 11 on a Reddish triple — his fifth and final of the night — and even as Virginia battled back, it couldn’t ever break through. Part of that was Duke’s exploits. Part of that was Virginia’s mistakes.

The Cavaliers will have plenty to look back on with frustration. The big men will lament eight offensive rebounds allowed and several opportunities near the basket gone awry. The guards will bemoan the team’s 15 turnovers — its third straight game with at least 14 — and knowing it could have handled Tre Jones’ heavy on-ball pressure with more poise. The team as a whole will regret the missed assignments, missed shots and missed opportunities that proved fatal against Duke. There were plenty.

“Before you win, you’ve got to eliminate losing or be cleaner in those areas,” Bennett said. “It’s transition defense, and it’s limiting second-chance points, and it’s taking care of the ball. To beat the team the caliber of Duke, those things have to be at a high, high level, and I don’t think they were high enough.”

Yes, the Cavaliers caught the Blue Devils on the wrong night, but they’ll also leave John Paul Jones Arena knowing the they picked the wrong night to play far from their best.

Give Duke credit. The Blue Devils knew Virginia would make adjustments to limit their paint opportunities, and they in turn produced their best outside shooting performance of the year by a wide margin. The Cavaliers have allowed more than 71 points just twice this season — both against Duke.

Virginia moves forward having lost to the Blue Devils twice in the same year for the first time since 2010-2011. The Cavaliers will be disappointed, knowing they missed an opportunity for revenge.

But they’ll also know there could be a chance for revenge in the future come tournament time — perhaps the ACC, NCAA or even both.

They’ll hope to not catch the Blue Devils on the wrong night.

And they’ll hope to be better, themselves, too.

As was evident Saturday night, they’ll need both.

augusta free press
augusta free press