Virginia gets big lead, coasts to 80-68 win over Notre Dame

kihei clark notre dame

Kihei Clark drives to the rim into the teeth of the Notre Dame defense. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

That wasn’t vintage Virginia in that 80-68 win over Notre Dame. The offense was free-flowing, the defense didn’t hedge on screen-and-rolls, except that one time when backup Francisco Caffaro forgot.

Coach Tony Bennett has made some major adjustments with his approach since the 98-75 loss to Gonzaga back on Dec. 26, and so far, so good.

UVA (8-2, 4-0 ACC) led by as many as 24 in its second game in two weeks with the Irish (3-8, 0-5 ACC), had to withstand a mini-rally that knocked the deficit down to 10, and how it did that was a sign of how this is a sort of new-look Virginia team.

A Casey Morsell three pushed the lead to 13, then after a Kihei Clark driving layup, Reece Beekman stole the inbounds pass and dunked, for a quick – 52-second – 7-0 run that made it 75-58 with 2:52 to go.

Morsell was among the stories of the day. In his first game back since missing the past week due to contact tracing related to COVID-19, Morsell – shooting 40 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three coming in – connected on 6-of-7 from the floor and was a perfect 3-of-3 from three.

Morsell was one of five UVA players in double-digits in scoring with 15 points.

Jay Huff, again saddled with foul trouble, led the team with 18 points, 12 in the first half, on 7-of-13 shooting in 24 minutes.

Sam Hauser just missed another double-double – 15 points and nine rebounds.

Clark had 12 points, six assists and one turnover in 37 minutes.

Trey Murphy III was the other guy in dubs – 10 points, 4-of-6 from the floor, 2-of-4 from three, coolly efficient.

Bennett went with a tight seven-man rotation, with redshirt freshman backup center Kadin Shedrick and junior reserve forward Kody Stattmann on the sidelines in warmup togs and unavailable.

The offense deviated from traditional Bennett with less mover-blocker, basically a motion offense, and more looks with Huff in the high post, and Clark, the 5’9” point guard, playing in the post with his back to the basket, looking to create from up close.

Huff’s 4-of-8 shooting from three keyed a 12-of-24 effort from long-range from UVA, which had been shooting 34.7 percent from behind the arc coming in.

Huff spacing the floor also helped open up the lane for rim runs – and Virginia was 11-of-17 on lauyps and dunks.

Overall, the team shot a blistering 56.7 percent from the field.

The defense was solid in the first, oh, roughly 28 minutes, basically up until the Morsell jumper that pushed the Virginia lead to 57-33 with 12:22 to go.

The Irish was shooting 12-of-38 (31.6 percent) to that point, but after UVA got the big lead, and its defensive intensity let off a bit, the numbers improved.

In the final 12:22, Notre Dame was 10-of-13 from the floor, 4-of-6 from three, to make things look respectable.

Bennett continued building on his halftime adjustment from last week in the 70-61 win over Wake Forest in JPJ.

The Demon Deacons had torched UVA for 39 points in the first half of that one, but after Bennett made the call to switch on screens, forgoing his favored hard hedge that doubles the ball-handler, but leaves the lane open for a split-second for a rim run, the D had been dominant – holding Wake, in the second half, then Boston College, for the entirety of the 61-49 win in Chestnut Hill on Saturday, to 71 points on 88 possessions – .806 points per possession – for a team that had been giving up .900 on the season to that point.

The final numbers from Wednesday, with Notre Dame getting hot from the field late against a Virginia group that wasn’t the same in terms of intensity with the big lead, won’t look as impressive, but it’s clear that Bennett is onto something, on both ends.

Doing the math from the play-by-play, Notre Dame had 33 points on its 42 possessions in the opening 27:28 – .786 points per possession.

They ended up shooting 43.1 percent (22-of-51) from the floor and 5-of-22 (22.7 percent) from three.

The Irish made a living at the free-throw line, connecting on 19-of-20, including 15-of-16 in the second half.

Cormac Ryan led four Notre Dame players in double-digits with 16 points.

Nate Laszewski, who had 28 points in the loss in South Bend two weeks ago, had a quiet 12 points in the rematch.

Story by Chris Graham


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