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This Virginia team, ahem, does appear suited to be able to play Virginia basketball

john paul jones arena
Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

It wasn’t just the effort on the defensive end, which was sublime. You had to figure that Virginia would eventually would get it going on the defensive end. Maybe not in a week.

The offense was the surprise. Sure, Virginia scored 58 points, nothing to write home about, but it was 58 points on 55 possessions.

There were 15 turnovers, which still needs some work, but 48.9 percent shooting from the floor, 6-of-12 from three, Armaan Franklin looking like Ron Mercer hitting mid-range jumpers off curls, Jayden Gardner facing opponents up on isos in the post, Kihei Clark spotting up for open threes, that was good offense there.

“We are going in the right direction. We’re getting better. We’re finding out what our strengths are. I think you saw some guys grow up the last couple nights,” coach Tony Bennett said after last night’s 58-40 win over Providence.

The victory allows Virginia to bring another trophy home, from the Roman Legends Classic, a tournament we won’t forget the next couple of days when we’re brushing our teeth.

Don’t knock the pelt involving Providence – the Friars already own wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern, look right now like an NCAA Tournament team.

This Virginia team played like vintage, getting out to a 15-point halftime lead, weathering a Providence comeback that got the margin down to six, then put a stranglehold on the Friars in the last 10 minutes.

Actually, over the last 10:49, Providence was 1-of-18 from the floor, as Virginia closed on a 16-4 run.

“Honestly, that’s one of the best defensive efforts I’ve seen in years,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said.

This from a rotation with new guys all over the place. Last year’s Cavaliers, with three guys now getting minutes in the NBA, never did seem to get the Pack-Line down, and this year’s group struggled in losses to Navy and Houston, allowing each to knock down 11 threes.

This week in Newark, Georgia was 3-of-21 from three and shot 37 percent overall; Providence was 3-of-22 from three and shot 23.5 percent overall.

“I thought early in the year we were a team that could be real sound and tough defensively, and then I second-guessed it maybe a little bit after the Navy game and in the Houston game, but now hopefully we can get it back on track,” Bennett said.

The offense is getting on track. The playbook was streamlined – more mover-blocker with Reece Beekman at point and Clark at two, more ball screens, more isos for Gardner, giving him space to use his footwork, speed and creativity to score in the post, less triangle sets, that seemed to clog things up, particularly for Gardner.

Assistant coach Jason Williford told us for a “Jerry Ratcliffe Show” podcast a couple of weeks ago that this year’s team would be a work-in-progress.

There was obvious progress this week.

Story by Chris Graham