Scott German: UVA, VCU learn a lot from Sunday tilt

scott germanBefore leaving Richmond for a two-game road trip to Austin and concluding in Charlottesville, VCU coach Mike Rhoades told his players to find out a lot about themselves, their team and in what direction they were heading for the remainder of the season.

Mission accomplished. The Rams found out a lot about their identity beating Texas Wednesday evening 54-53, and giving the fourth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers a stern head butting before bowing 57-49 in snowy Charlottesville Sunday afternoon.

But while VCU learned that they can certainly be road warriors, the Cavaliers quite possibly learned a great deal about their own identity as well.

In blogging during the game, I noted that as the game progressed, it was bringing back unpleasant memories (OK, nightmares) of that fateful Friday last March in Charlotte. Virginia was stagnant on offense, and at times seemingly disinterested on the defensive end.

Virginia really never did get untracked on offense, finishing with a season-low 29.5 percent from the floor, and at the under eight-minute media timeout in the second half, the Cavaliers were a woeful 2-of-15 from the field after the intermission. Things were not looking good for Virginia inside John Paul Jones Arena, as blizzard-like weather was blanketing the area.

At the five minute mark, a bucket by the Rams’ De’Riante Jenkins put VCU ahead 45-44.What followed. though, was a critical swing to the Cavaliers.

Ty Jerome nailed a three and during the play, it was determined that VCU committed a foul away from the ball on Kyle Guy. Guy sank both free throws, and all of a sudden, the Cavaliers found themselves ahead for good at 49-45.

On an afternoon when the Cavaliers big three offensively (Jerome, Guy, De’Andre Hunter) struggled at times, especially Hunter with the physicality, they somehow figured out a way to get up off the canvas after seeing the Rams land some stiff uppercuts.

Great teams find ways to win when things aren’t going that great. And for about 36 minutes Sunday afternoon, it appeared that this was possibly not the Cavaliers’ day.

Virginia got a great defensive effort down the stretch from freshmen Kihei Clark, who personally stopped the Rams from getting the ball past midcourt for a 10-second violation, a play that sent the JPJ fateful into bedlam.

Mamadi Diakite also stepped up for the Cavaliers, adding a couple of key baskets and knocking down some late free throws.

“Mamadi, I was so happy for him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett pointed out early in the postgame presser. “I think he’s continuing to improve, he’s really playing hard,” added Bennett.

So on an afternoon when possibly three all-conference players were misfiring, Virginia did find a way to win. Virginia didn’t just stand around looking and wondering who would step up. They did something about it.

VCU is a solid team. And when the calendar flips over to 2019, a lot of solid teams will be on the horizon for the Virginia. And if the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders for the Cavaliers, all they have to do is think back on this snowy afternoon in the Hook.

Column by Scott German

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is now available at a special pre-sale discounted price of $20. The book is expected to ship by June 10, 2019, and will retail for $25.
Pre-order for $20: click here.

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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