Kihei Clark, Braxton Key add versatility to UVA

UVA basketballYou were surprised to see UVA freshman guard Kihei Clark play 25 minutes in the Cavaliers’ season opener?

So was he.

“I didn’t know I would be playing this many minutes at the start of the season,” said Clark, who basically played starter’s minutes in Virginia’s 73-42 win over Towson.

“I wouldn’t have expected this. I knew I wanted to come in and contribute right away.  I figured it out in a couple of the scrimmages, where I played quite a bit of minutes. So, I knew I might get the chance to play a lot. I was ready and will be ready for whenever I’m called,” Clark said.

He’ll be called, let’s put it that way. Clark only scored four points, but he had six assists and one turnover, and looked good running the team offensively.

You knew what to expect defensively. Clark, all 5’9” of him, has had that reputation for a while, reportedly getting under the skin of junior point guard Ty Jerome in practice.

(The password is pest.)

One thing you can guarantee when talking about a Tony Bennett team: if you go hard on D in practice, you’re going to see the floor in games.

“(He) energizes us with just his tenacity on the ball, poking the ball and making a play,” Bennet said of Clark after the game.

Clark adds, wait for it, versatility to a lineup that looks far different from last year’s group, that, God love it, was so strong on the defensive end, but didn’t have a guy like Clark who could speed up opponents with on-ball defense.

Bennett actually had his team in a full-court press look on a few defensive possessions, which, is that a first for UVA under Bennett?

Also a surprise for Virginia fans: seeing transfer Braxton Key get the start. And, again, Key himself was a bit surprised. He didn’t get word that he would be starting until Tuesday, though he’d had an inkling.

“Yesterday in practice,” he answered a reporter’s question on when he’d divined that he’d get the starting nod. “I was playing with the same group that we started, and I just kind of had an idea I would, but I actually found out today.”

Key logged 29 minutes, scoring seven points and grabbing nine rebounds.

You could say that Key was primarily in the backcourt, allowing Bennett to use De’Andre Hunter in the frontcourt, but Bennett would tell you that there was a lot of back-and-forth between his versatile book-ends.

“We sort of labored in the scrimmages when I went with our big lineup,” Bennett said, his big lineup being, presumably, because we didn’t get to see the scrimmage, but the expected starting lineup was Kyle Guy-Ty Jerome-De’Andre Hunter-Mamadi Diakite-Jack Salt, so, that one.

Bennett likes the, drink up if you have versatility, versatility of having Key and Hunter on the floor at the same time.

“Sometimes I’m playing [Key] on the perimeter offensively and then I let [Hunter] play more of a forward offensively, and then we flip it defensively.”

Throw in Clark at point, the full-court press, Jay Huff, the seven-footer who can hit threes, if he can only get on the floor, and this team has so much more …

Versatility. It’s a word.

Column by Chris Graham

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