The ugliest seven-point win you’ll see: #4 UVA survives Dayton

UVA basketballYou don’t have to be the best team in the country every night. Good thing, because #4 UVA wasn’t that good Thursday.

Credit to the ‘Hoos for gutting out the 66-59 win over Dayton in the semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis with their C-minus game.

De’Andre Hunter was the savior, scoring 23 points on a cooly efficient 8-of-11 from the floor in 38 minutes.

The story for Virginia, even more than Hunter’s brilliance, was the struggle on the defensive end for the Cavaliers.

Dayton (4-1) went long stretches where it felt like it wouldn’t miss. The Friars shot well from the get-go, and cleaned up their act in the second half, after shooting 52.9 percent but committing 11 turnovers to register just 22 points in the opening 20 minutes.

Dayton would commit just three turnovers in the second half while shooting a blistering 55.2 percent.

But the ‘Hoos (5-0) more than held their own, shooting 50 percent in the second half, and attacking enough to get to the line.

UVA was 17-of-22 from the line for the game; Dayton had just eight free-throw attempts, and was 4-for-8 on the day.

The cleanup work for Tony Bennett and staff ahead of the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game on Friday against #25 Wisconsin will begin on the defensive end.

Dayton was able to get into the paint on a consistent basis with dribble-drives and slip-screens. For the game, the Friars shot 13-of-20 in the paint, 7-of-12 on jumpers and 5-of-14 on three-point shots, suggesting that the effort to touch the paint was helpful in freeing up shooters on kickouts.

On the other side of the floor, Virginia’s offense was a case of fits-and-starts. Dayton coach Anthony Grant switched defensive looks from straight man to 2-3 zone, with a wrinkle in his zone, sending one of the two guards at the top down to crunch on Hunter in the pivot of the zone offense to cut off that passing option.

The offense stagnated for several uncomfortably long stretches: including a 4:56 scoreless stretch to open the game, another 3:50 scoreless stretch midway through the first half, a third 2:40 scoreless stretch late in the first half, then a 3:44 stretch inside of 10 minutes to go in the game that saw Virginia score just one point and a final drought of 2:40 that ended with an end-of-shot-clock three by Hunter with 55 seconds left that put the ‘Hoos up seven and was ultimately the dagger.

The shooting breakdown for the Cavaliers isn’t as nice and tidy as the one for Dayton: Virginia was 11-of-18 in the paint, 3-of-11 on jumpers and 7-of-20 from three.

All this having been written now, you’d think UVA lost by 20, based on this rendering. Credit, again, to the team for winning despite basically fouling the Bahamas with an awful stench.

The game tomorrow is at 2 p.m., with the Virginia-Virginia Tech football game at 3:30 p.m., so … a lot of channel-flipping is in your future.

Story 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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