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Jayden Gardner, again, owns Paolo Banchero: Career-making night, literally

jayden gardner paolo banchero
Jayden Gardner drives to the hoop against Duke’s Paolo Banchero. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

We need to rethink our thinking on Paolo Banchero being a lottery pick. That, or rethink our thinking on Jayden Gardner’s ceiling being G-League.

Banchero, the consensus projected #1 pick in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft when the season started, now sliding down a few spots after a recent rough patch, has had exactly two games in which he has failed to score in double figures.

Both have come against Gardner, who gives up four inches to the 6’10” Banchero, and in addition to the four inches of length, there’s the mobility, polish.

In Virginia’s 69-68 win in Durham on Feb. 7, Gardner had 17 points and eight rebounds, and held Banchero to nine and nine, and Banchero was 3-of-9 from the field in the loss – and took just one shot in the second half, a wild three that hit the top and side of the backboard at the buzzer.

OK, so, dust yourself off, take note that there were going to be 10 NBA scouts in attendance at JPJ, and make a statement, that Feb. 7 was an aberration.

Banchero’s whole night in the rematch was an aberration. He finished with eight points, hit on just two of his 13 shots from the floor, had a couple of ugly airballs, a third jumper that missed wide left before almost breaking the backboard.

He did have five assists, but also committed three turnovers.

Gardner, meanwhile, recovered from a subpar first half – two points on 1-of-4 shooting – to finish with 16, on 7-of-15 shooting.

The sum totals head-to-head for the two games:

  • Gardner: 33 points, 15-of-34 FG (44.1 percent), 12 rebounds, three assists, two turnovers
  • Banchero: 17 points, 5-of-22 FG (22.7 percent), 14 rebounds, eight assists, seven turnovers

“Gardner is a hell of a player, and worthy of some level of all-conference consideration, but they also doubled. So, he [Gardner] is really good, don’t get me wrong, but then they bring a seven-footer over there, too,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Um, OK, yeah, Virginia did double Banchero a couple of times early, but as it became apparent that Banchero, as he did in the first game, wanted to have nothing with being doubled in the post, he floated around the perimeter, basically taking himself out of the game.

And Duke did everything it could in both games to try to help Banchero on the defensive end, doubling Gardner some, going to zone for several possessions, before Kihei Clark forced Krzyzewski to change out of the game plan with six first-half threes.

It’s taking away from what Gardner has been able to do in two head-to-heads with Banchero to dismiss it as being the result of a few post-to-post doubles.

“You have to get through things, it’s how you improve, by being in these situations. You can’t practice this,” Krzyzewski. “I thought he [Banchero] was really positive throughout, and he hit Jeremy [Roach] with a really big pass for three at the end. But they’re a good defensive team, and they don’t give up much in that paint. So anyway, I think he learned a lot tonight, and I thought he never put his head down.”

The scouts looking for Banchero to step up after being thoroughly outplayed by Gardner the first time out couldn’t have liked what they saw when it happened again, more pronounced, in the redux.

For Gardner, though, the two games could be career-making, literally.

“Players live for these types of moments and to play in these types of games and this atmosphere, and I just rose to the occasion,” Gardner said. “My teammates believe in me, and my coaches believe in me, so I am just doing my job out there.”

Story by Chris Graham


augusta free press
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