Re-emergence of Kihei Clark bolsters UVA’s 1-2 punch at the point
Kihei Clark, after a couple of awful games to start the season, didn’t start the St. Francis or Kent State games.
He ended up getting 38 minutes off the bench in what turned into an OT win over Kent State, and Virginia doesn’t win that game without him taking over the game down the stretch.
It’s worth checking in on how he’s been doing since he’s gotten back into the starting lineup.
Hmmm: 13.2 points per game, 58.3 percent shooting, 19 assists/11 turnovers, 182 minutes of playing time/200 possible minutes.
That’s the Clark that Virginia was counting on coming into the 2020-2021 season – the guy who earned a starting role as a freshman on the 2019 title team, hounding opposing point guards to allow Ty Jerome to focus on running the offense, then became the heart and soul on both ends a year ago.
Now as a junior, Clark is where Jerome was two years ago – the veteran whose understudy, in Clark’s case, Top 50 recruit Reece Beekman, is apprenticing as his backcourt mate.
Beekman has logged five starts through nine games, three of the past four alongside Clark, sort of a 1 and 1a, a la 2019.
“I think two point guards is, like my first year, we had two point guards, me and Ty, and this year me and Reece. It’s just different,” Clark said after Virginia’s 61-49 win at Boston College. “He could bring up the ball, I could bring up the ball.
“I think we just try to play off of each other, just try to learn each other’s strengths and just what we’d like to do, but it’s fun being on the court with him at the same time.”
Having Beekman, at 6’3”, with natural grace with the ball in his hands, and Clark, at 5’9” a preternatural pest on the defensive end, it gives coach Tony Bennett interesting lineup flexibility.
Having those two solidifying things in the backcourt allows Bennett to go huge on the frontline – with 6’8” Sam Hauser and 6’9” Trey Murphy III both big guards who can go two, three or four, and 7’1” Jay Huff, who can knock down threes and use pump-fakes and dribble-drives to get himself into the lane.
“I thought they were really good against Wake Forest, and again I thought they were really good today,” Bennett said. “Today offensively, Reece from a scoring standpoint, he didn’t score except for the free throws, he had four free throws, but he still created. He had that beautiful pass to Jay in the second half, drove baseline and dropped it, and he has those instinct.
“As his game continues to improve, and his shot gets more consistent, it’s good. But feel, guys that have feel, they can see stuff, they draw, they kick, they know how to play and put pressure by penetration are important. I think Reece and Kihei, they’ve done a good job. Kihei, six of eight, and his ability to put pressure on the paint, sometimes score, sort of posting them up and some drives are good.”
Story by Chris Graham