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Win or lose, Bennett wants the game in Kihei’s hands with the game on the line

Kihei Clark
Kihei Clark. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Tony Bennett wanted the game in the hands of Kihei Clark, win or lose, and he didn’t want to give Iowa coach Fran McCaffery time to scheme to get it out of his hands.

“I said that in the huddle. I said if they scored that I thought, push and give because I thought we could maybe get one on the glass. Because of their three-quarter court pressure and how they were falling in the zone, I thought if we can get it down on the floor and attack and get a quality shot, get it and get over the glass,” said Bennett, explaining his thinking late-game, not calling a timeout after the make by Joe Toussaint that gave Iowa a 75-74 lead with eight seconds left.

Iowa had called a timeout with 16 seconds left to draw up a play. Bennett used the timeout to set up his defense, and also the sequence for what to do with the ball in the event that the Hawkeyes scored.

The strategy that he used – not calling timeout, instead pushing the ball up the floor with Clark initiating, to let his senior point guard create – is what Bennett does in these situations.

When it works, and it’s worked – I’m thinking, his assist to Tomas Woldetensae for a three that beat UNC in Chapel Hill, his step-back three to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg – there’s no questioning the approach.

When it doesn’t, and it involves Clark, who for some reason has loud detractors among the fan base, despite being a key guy on the 2019 national-title team as a freshman, it draws out the haters.

“I could have possibly got it across halfcourt and called the timeout,” Bennett said afterward. “Those are things we decided before. Attack, attack, and I just wanted them going. I’ll look at it, and maybe I’ll change my tune if I did it again. I was OK with how it ended. I thought maybe we could get a foul, but I don’t think there was one.”

The haters need to lay off Clark, who had himself a night – 15 points, 6-of-10 shooting from the floor, 3-of-4 from three, five assists, two turnovers, in 38 minutes.

All the guy has been is the heart and soul of this program for three years.

And he came up big for Virginia Monday night, as the ‘Hoos rallied from a 21-point first-half deficit to take the lead twice in the final two minutes, the second time on a Clark three with 45 seconds left.

“I mean, that just shows we can when we play how we want to play,” Clark said. “We’re pretty good. We stuck with them. We dug ourselves a hole, so battling back from that, it’s always tough to come back. We try to put two halves together.”

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press