Inside the Numbers: Jay Huff continues to tantalize

jay huffA little trade secret here: all you really have to do to get UVA basketball fans to click is put Jay Huff in the headline. There’s good reason for that.

Look at the first 2:07 he played Tuesday night in Virginia’s 68-45 win over Wake Forest.

He checked in at the 13:52 mark. First defensive possession, 13:16 on the clock, Huff blocked a shot by 7-foot Wake center Olivier Sarr.

Other end, then, 12:50 on the clock, Huff catches a no-look pass from Kyle Guy at the top of the key, and drains the open three-pointer.

Next UVA possession, 12:21 mark, Huff, the three from the previous trip still fresh in defenders’ minds, pump-fakes at the three-point line, dribbles once, and drops a finger roll off the glass for an and-one.

Final part of this sequence: now Wake has gone zone, for probably obvious reasons. Huff moves down low, and points to the rim.

He makes eye contact with Ty Jerome, who obliges with a perfectly-placed alley-oop pass for the throwdown.

Two minutes, seven seconds: eight points, a blocked shot, Wake goes from man to zone, neither works.

His coach Tony Bennett, spoiler alert, is not prone to hyperbole.

“He is continuing to improve, he shows some great flashes offensively,” Bennett answered a reporter in search of a quote gushing about Huff, which, no, not Tony.

“He’s such a threat. He can stretch you from three, but he can put it on the floor. When he’s on the floor we do a couple different things offensively,” Bennett said.

I’ve written about this recently, as Huff has been consistently getting more minutes. Huff has put up three double-digit-scoring games in Virginia’s last seven, averaging 7.6 points per game over that span, shooting 73.1 percent from the field, and 57.1 percent from three-point range.

With Huff on the floor, Bennett has been using him more in the middle of the floor, setting middle screens for Guy and Jerome flashing from the lane, then setting up shop as a shooter at the three-point line if the defense keys on the guard running free.

Huff, as we know, can hit the open shot, and he can get to the rim, as we saw last night, and Saturday at Duke, on another single-dribble dribble-drive dunk.

So, basically, on defense, you pick your poison: allowing Jerome or Guy to get daylight from a Huff screen to make sure he doesn’t do his damage, or shifting the attention to either of those guys and giving Huff free rein.

It doesn’t quite work the same with Mamadi Diakite or particularly Jack Salt in that role.

The reason UVA fans click on these stories: they want somebody like me to tell them why Bennett doesn’t use Huff more.

All I can do is shrug my shoulders and say: defense?

“He’s been working really hard the past few months in practice trying to get the defense down, because that was the only reason he wasn’t playing,” Salt said after the game, saying out loud in front of reporters what the rest of us say to each other.

Bennett, in his own way, sounded a similar tone.

“I thought he left some rebounds out there,” Bennett said, by way of offering assessment.

Yes, he did. Huff had two boards in 12 minutes Tuesday night. He also blocked two shots, which I point out, reflexively, just to get it out there.

C’mon, Tony, he blocked two shots!

I make it a point, sitting on media row at JPJ, to focus on Huff on the defensive end when he’s on the floor.

He’s … doing better. Early this season, he was still a liability against the pick-and-roll, which in the Pack Line requires the big to hard hedge, basically doubling the ball up top, then flash back to the post to pick up his man from a guard diving down to help on the back side.

His recovery has improved significantly.

His straight-up and helpside post defense are not at question.

He does need to get more rebounds. His rebound percentage last night was just a tick above the 6’2” Guy.

This, to me, all comes with more time on the floor.

It really can be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that sense.

Huff, for his part, just has his head down, focused on what he needs to do to get more time out there.

“I think the consistency has been better,” Huff said. “It hasn’t been perfect. But I think that has helped for sure. In some of the games it has been kind of off and on, and some games it has been pretty solid for the most part.”

Column by Chris Graham


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