Inside the Numbers: A gloriously boring UVA basketball NCAA Tournament win

uva basketball bear creekAfter the Marvel Comics ending to Duke-UCF, the UVA win over Oklahoma played like a documentary, and not even one of those good ones, like the one about the Fyre Festival.

More like one giving insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the city planning department.


A Braxton Key three with 3:45 to go in the first half put Virginia up 10, and the lead would remain in double-digits for all but 63 seconds the rest of the way, as the ‘Hoos won, 63-51, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

No 7’6” guys dunking on their tiptoes, no Zion Williamson dunks, no stickbacks off missed free throws to take the lead.

No shots, much less two of them, touching every part of the rim in the closing seconds of a one-point game.

What you got out of Virginia’s win was a lot of the hard hedge, closeouts on threes, help on dives, ball screens, pocket passes.

Ruthless efficiency.

Boring basketball.

No drama.

Just the way Virginia fans like their basketball.

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“I thought we played enough quality basketball,” said UVA coach Tony Bennett, which, zzzzzzz.

He saves the good stuff for his team in practice and in the locker room.

Sunday was a far cry from Friday, which saw 16 seed Gardner-Webb light up the ‘Hoos in the first half, in front of a highly partisan crowd – the school, two hours up the road, had to have closed down for the day, and relocated to Columbia, S.C.

The atmosphere Sunday night was cold after the Duke-UCF classic sucked all of the air out of the Colonial Life Arena.

Emotionally spent, fans needed something on the court to get them back into their job of being … fans.

Virginia, at its best, will starve an arena not named after John Paul Jones of its oxygen, with stifling defense and coolly efficient offense.

Both were at play Sunday night.

Oklahoma had an early 13-2 spurt to take a brief four-point first-half lead, but an 18-2 UVA response, over a 9:41 stretch, gave the ‘Hoos a 12-point lead, and the way things were going at that stage, if you’d seen Virginia at all before, you had a good feeling where this one was going.

Oklahoma had scored 95 points in its win over Ole Miss on Friday. The Sooners had 22 at the half on Sunday.

“They got us out of rhythm,” said Brady Manek, a 6’9” stretch four, who had 13 points in the first half, on 5-of-9 shooting, but didn’t score a point in the second half, missing all four of his shots from the field, as Bennett sicced ACC Defensive Player of the Year De’Andre Hunter and sixth man and Swiss Army knife defender Braxton Key on him in the final 20 minutes.

Oklahoma would finish with 51 points, one more than it had at halftime on Friday, and shot 36.5 percent for the night, just 6-of-13 on shots in the paint.

Against Ole Miss, OU shot 57.6 percent, and was 22-of-32 in the paint.

“Just trying to get in the pack and make it more difficult for them to get inside,” Key explained the defensive focus to reporters afterward. “When they got inside, just post trapping their guards and try to give them different looks that they may not have seen prior to today.”

But, see, that’s boring.

Nothing there about poster dunks, highlight-reel blocked shots.

It was cold, impersonal, business-like.

And a thing of absolute beauty, if you’re a Virginia fan.

Column by Chris Graham

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Team of Destiny: Inside UVA Basketball's improbable run

Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.

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