Your Christmas gift from UVA hoops: Top-ranked Gonzaga

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Tony Bennett got us all something really nice for Christmas this year: a game with top-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday.

College hoops fans get a marquee game between the champs and this year’s (so far) #1. CBS gets inventory that will draw in millions of sets of eyeballs to watch its commercials for trucks and pizza around the action.

The gift is really for his players, though.

“It was nice to hear that we were going to play Gonzaga because we lost our games against Michigan State, Florida and Villanova,” redshirt freshman center Kadin Shedrick said. “I think it’d be cool to get a marquee game in before the conference play starts. We’re all really looking forward to it. We all really excited here we’re going to play Gonzaga. We’re excited for the challenge.”

Bennett could have gone the easy route to fill out the schedule ahead of the ACC opener on Dec. 30 at Notre Dame.

Bennett doesn’t do easy.

“You have to have a level of urgency like you haven’t had this year,” Bennet said, analyzing the matchup, “in terms of being back in set and then getting the shooters and everything. It really is that. You’ve got to take care of the ball, but you don’t back down. You run your stuff hard, you go against them.”

The game tips at 4 p.m. ET on CBS.

The ‘Zags (6-0) already have wins over Kansas, Auburn, WVU and Iowa, the latter of those, last weekend on national TV, being the one that really got folks’ attention.

Gonzaga shot a blistering 10-of-16 from three in the first half to race out to a big lead, and held off the Hawkeyes late in a 99-88 win.

“They’re a very good team, a very talented team,” Shedrick said. “They are deserving of that number-one ranking, and we’re excited for the challenge. They shot very good against Iowa, so we’re going to have to really make sure we lock in on that. Their bigs are also very good. They’re really complete team, and it will be a good challenge for us.”

Two ‘Zags – freshman point guard Jalen Suggs (16.3 ppg, 56.9% FG, 50.0% 3FG, 5.8 assists/g) and 6’10” sophomore big Drew Timme (20.3 ppg, 7.5 rebs/g, 60.5% FG) rank among the top 10 players nationally per KenPom.com.

And then the other guy in their Big Three – 6’7” senior Corey Kispert (20.8 ppg, 61.6% FG, 45.9% 3FG) – he ain’t bad.

“I don’t know when you play a team as talented and as explosive as Gonzaga, I don’t know what prepares you for that,” Bennett said. “I know how good they are, and I know what we’ll have to do at a very high level to be in a game like that and make it competitive and hopefully be successful. So, I understand that, and it’ll be a different kind of game, the way they’ll get down the floor.”

For UVA fans, Saturday will feel, for the first time since the Louisville home game back in March, that their basketball world is back on its axis.

Merry Christmas.

Story by Chris Graham


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