‘Hoos previews: Virginia looks for season sweep against Notre Dame

By Zach Pereles

uva notre dameNo. 4 Virginia (21-2, 9-2) returns home to John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday to take on an improving Notre Dame (13-11, 3-8) team.

The Cavaliers defeated the Fighting Irish 82-55 in late January in South Bend and have won two in a row against Mike Brey’s squad.

But the Fighting Irish are looking better of late, with two of their three ACC wins coming in the last week and a hald. This is the youngest team Mike Brey has ever coached in South Bend — his freshman have combined for 1,882 minutes this season, more than any other freshman class has played for the longtime head coach.

Though it’s been an up-and-down year, the one consistent part of Notre Dame’s operation is big man John Mooney, who is one of five major-conference players averaging a double-double (14.2 points, 10.8 rebounds). Mooney is the only one of those players to do that and shoot above 40 percent (40.4) from three. In the first meeting between these teams, Mooney scored 15 points, the only Notre Dame player to get into double digits.

Virginia brought home a resounding 82-55 victory last time against the Irish. The Cavaliers had balanced scoring, with five players getting into double digits, and they owned the boards to the tune of a 45-33 advantage. Virginia also only had two turnovers in that first matchup. It was a relatively worry-free afternoon, one that Tony Bennett’s squad will look to replicate.

Three Cavaliers to watch:

Mamadi Diakite. It’s been a wild ride for Diakite over the past week or so. He suffered a significant injury in the first half against Duke that sidelined him for the remainder of the game. Diakite was healthy enough, though, to return to action two days later, and registered an efficient six points as well as four blocks, tying his season high. Diakite is likely to play a big role in trying to defend John Mooney. Last time out, Mooney went on a mini hot streak in the second half to get the deficit to a dozen, but when Diakite was re-inserted into the game, Mooney cooled off significantly.

“I thought Mamadi was a key in this game when they cut it to 12 and we were having a little trouble,” Bennett said following the game. “Mooney stepped out and hit a couple of threes. … It was a poor stretch, defensively, for us. I reinserted Mamadi back in, and his quickness, I thought, defensively, allowed us to guard Mooney at the three point line, and then also he used his quickness and blocked some shots.”

Ty Jerome. Jerome has been terrific, even while dealing with a significant back injury that prevented him from warming up with the team or sitting on the fold-out chairs during timeouts. In the first meeting, Jerome put up a solid all-around game with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists as UVA buried the Fighting Irish behind an offensive barrage. If he can get his team operating at a similar clip Saturday, Bennett might be able to keep his minutes down in the low 30s or high 20s.

De’Andre Hunter. As the first matchup showed, Notre Dame has no real answer for Hunter, who scored 19 and is coming off 20 at North Carolina. He’s too big for the guards, too strong for the forwards and too quick for the big men. Expect another big game from Virginia’s leading scorer.

Three Fighting Irishmen to watch:

John Mooney. In a lost season for Notre Dame, Mooney has emerged as undoubtedly the shiniest diamond in the rough. The junior big man is terrifically skilled and rebounds to ball very well. His 11-point, 14-rebound performance in Sunday’s win over Georgia Tech was his 15th double-double this year and ninth in ACC play.

T.J. Gibbs. If Notre Dame wants to pull off the shocker, it will need Gibbs to be at his best. Gibbs, like the rest of his team, has had some nice moments but overall has been too inconsistent. The past three games show as much. In a win over Boston College two weekends ago, he scored 19 points on just 11 shots. Then he made just one of his nine shots and scored just two points as Notre Dame lost to Miami. On Sunday, he got back into things with 20 points in the win over Georgia Tech. Gibbs struggled mightily in the game against Virginia earlier this year, so he’ll be looking to bounce back Saturday.

Prentiss Hubb. One of several freshmen playing key roles for Notre Dame this year, Hubb has improved over the season and is finding his footing recently, having scored double-digit points in three of his last four games. Hubb was a top-100 recruit out of the Washington, D.C. area last year and chose the Irish over a host of other big basketball schools, UVA included.

KenPom says: Virginia, 71-51 (96 percent chance of victory)

Final notes:

  • Virginia is 12-2 all time against Notre Dame. The Irish won the first ever meeting, upsetting then-No. 1 Virginia 57-56 in 1981. Ralph Sampson and co. returned the favor the next season, winning by 33.
  • Mike Brey is the third-longest-tenured coach in the ACC behind behind Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski. Brey took the Notre Dame job in 2000.
  • Notre Dame has no players from Virginia. Kyle Guy (Indianapolis) is the lone Cavalier from Indiana.

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