Inside the Numbers: Two guys with five points between them key Virginia win

uva basketball bear creekGardner-Webb led top seed Virginia 30-16 after a short jumper by D.J. Laster with 6:42 to go in the first half. With the make, the Bulldogs were shooting, at the moment, 10-of-13 on shots in the paint.

It was UMBC all over again.

UVA coach Tony Bennett inserted 7’1” redshirt sophomore Jay Huff into the lineup with 5:48 to go in the half, and something changed.

It wouldn’t register in the statbook: Huff only played five minutes on the night, scoring two points, not recording a rebound or a blocked shot.

But, his presence, and his help defense, sealed off the lane for the close of the first half.

Gardner-Webb made a pair of threes over a 45-second stretch, but that was it offensively for the rest of the half, as Virginia closed on a 14-6 run to cut the deficit to six.

Then, it was Kihei Clark Time.

Again, it wouldn’t register in the postgame stats: Clark finished with three points, five rebounds, four assists, and a lot of floor time: 36 minutes.

It was his defense – and, well, everything – that the difference.

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Gardner-Webb tried multiple times in the second half to run a pick-and-roll with Jaheam Cornwall and Jose Perez, aimed at getting Clark, at 5’9”, one-one-one with Perez, at 6’5”, on the switch.

Perez wouldn’t score on any of those sets, as Clark held his own: forcing Perez to pass, once stripping him of the ball, bodying him up on a missed jumper.

His hands were everywhere: in passing lanes, picking up loose balls.

Virginia actually didn’t lead in the game until Clark tracked down a 50/50 ball and found De’Andre Hunter for a hoop-and-a-harm that made it 39-38 ‘Hoos with 16:16 to go.

For some reason, the official scorer didn’t award Clark an assist there, but he did register one at the 14:21 mark on another pass to Hunter, who knocked down a short jumper that pushed the lead to 44-38.

He picked up three more assists – to Ty Jerome for a three, and another two to Hunter, for a jumper and a three.

Yes, Mamadi Diakite stepped up big in the second half, scoring 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes, and continuing the efforts initiated by Huff to cut off the lane.

Gardner-Webb, you remember, had been shooting 10-of-13 in the paint in the first 13-plus minutes. The Bulldogs would finish 12-of-22 in the paint, so, they were 2-of-9 in the final 27.

Not bad.

And Hunter, wow: he had 17 in the second half, on 6-of-9 shooting, asserting his will on the offensive end, in particular.

But, when you get down to it, it was two guys with five points between them keyed the Virginia win.

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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