Breakout Players Emerge as Wahoos Respond to Loss to Purdue With Tough Victory Over Tar Heels
A work of art, it was not. But No. 5 Virginia put in another virtuoso defensive performance, did enough on offense, and bounced back from the Purdue blowout by handling No. 7 North Carolina on Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, 56-47.
The Tar Heels are struggling themselves, but how nice is it when the Cavaliers can get over a bad loss by leading a top-10 team almost wire to wire, and fans can be like well, it's a start, but we still weren't very good on offense? Remember, we are very blessed to have Tony Bennett. Beating UNC has become the norm. As he usually does, Bennett vexed Roy Williams. UVa has won five consecutive times against the Heels for the first time since -- get this -- 1920. It's no secret this is truly the golden era of Virginia basketball, but it's just good to get another reminder of what that actually means.
Like usual, Virginia had Mamadi Diakite leading the way with 12 points, and he made his only 3-pointer of the game, plus sunk all five of his free throws. But it's a pleasant surprise who came in second and third in the box score. Tomas Woldetensae, coming off the bench again after starting against Purdue and Maine with Braxton Key and Kody Stattmann out, responded by having by far his best game as a Cavalier with 11 points, making 3 of his 4 3s, and he also chipped in three boards and two steals as he showed his physical side. And Francisco Caffaro busted out with 10 points, seven rebounds, and a block off of the backboard in just 21 minutes. The Argentinian flashed nice touch around the rim on a couple of occasions but also displayed brute strength uncommon in a redshirt freshman. You can tell he also has no desire to play outside the paint. It appears as though he feasts on physicality. He came out of the game once with what looked to be a minor leg injury and went back in. Caffaro just needs to learn the American game and Bennett's system. He looks like he could be a monster. I really liked the way he attacked once he got on the floor.
“We had that fire in us… We had to turn the page and focus on what was next.” 🔥@UVAMensHoops’ Mamadi Diakite tells @TheAndyKatz how the Hoos rebounded for a big W over No. 7 UNC. #GoHoos pic.twitter.com/yhx7au41nq— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 9, 2019
Kihei Clark made only 1 of his 8 shots but finished with seven points by making 5 of 7 from the line and added six assists (three turnovers) and three steals to his ledger. He made a couple of questionable decisions early, including a layup attempt where he ran himself into a tough shot and threw the ball awkwardly off of the underside of the rim. However, he was also excellent at the end of the first half, using a hesistation dribble to get in the lane, then passed between two defenders to Stattmann for a layup with the clock almost at zero. Stattmann, back in the starting lineup, finished with seven points and made 1 of 4 3s. He said after the game he is still not 100 percent and is getting his strength back after his illness.
I thought the way Virginia ended the first half was a crucial part of the win. Obviously, it is better to go into halftime with the lead than without it, but it felt especially important for this team's confidence coming off of the Purdue game. Plus, the Tar Heels were making a run, closing the gap from 17-9 to 17-16. But the 'Hoos finished the half outscoring them, 7-2.
Casey Morsell had five points, continuing to be inconsistent, going 2 for 9 from the field, including 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. His other field goal was a pull-up jumper from the elbow, which has been the prettiest type of shot he's had this season. Morsell's 3 was followed on the next possession by one from Woldetensae, and all of a sudden, Virginia had made two straight triples, truly a sight to behold with the way the offense has looked.
Justin McKoy played 17 minutes, continuing to show great bounce and energy, battling on the glass with UNC's bigs and grabbing five rebounds. He finished with four points by going 4 for 6 from the line. Jay Huff started, but only played 14 minutes and didn't score. He was convincingly outplayed by Caffaro. It was striking to see the physicality Caffaro played with versus what we normally see from Huff. Interestingly, Bennett said after the game he probably didn't play Caffaro enough against Purdue, which isn't a good sign for Huff's prospects going forward (even though Huff did have 11 points against the Boilermakers).
Bennett said after the game he hopes they get back Key soon, but that his injury has been a positive in at least one way. "I hope soon we'll get Braxton back, but what this is doing is providing some depth that maybe we wouldn't have found otheriwse. [Caffaro] and [McKoy] have been showing flashes. ... I like what I've been seeing from those guys."
Virginia bottled up North Carolina's offense. The Tar Heels made one 3 -- one -- on 14 attempts. Star freshman Cole Anthony had 12 points on just 4-of-15 shooting and six turnovers as Clark did a great job defending him.
"For the most part, you just have to show up and be a pest," Bennett said of Clark's defense. "I thought Kihei was able to get into and under [Anthony] and make him work. ... Kihei has played against good guys, and Cole is one of the better ones."
UNC's only other double-figure scorer was also a freshman, Armando Bacot, a Richmond native who was questionable to play, with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. The Heels managed just two fast-break points.
Williams trotted out what is probably his usual line after his team faces Virginia: "This is the most frustrated I've ever been."
Virginia showed way more hustle than it did against Purdue, beating UNC on the boards, 37-32. Virginia did have 13 turnovers, with Diakite recording six of those. He put himself in some bad spots instead of being decisive with the ball, and UNC made sure he got nothing easy. But the Cavaliers turned 12 Tar Heels turnovers into 14 points, while they got 11 points off of UVa's turnovers. Virginia actually shot worse from the field than UNC, 32.7 percent versus 37, but the difference was the 'Hoos went 6 of 17 from beyond the arc and 18 of 25 at the line, compared to UNC's 12-of-22 effort at the stripe.
2⃣-0⃣ in the ACC 🎥👇— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) December 9, 2019
This victory reminded me a lot of two other wins against UNC at home: 61-53 in January 2013 and 53-43 in February 2017. This was not an effort that was going to win a beauty contest, but Virginia was gritty and tough and came out with a win to get to 2-0 in the ACC and 8-1 overall. UNC fell to 6-3 and 1-1 in the conference. Bennett wasn't happy with the players' effort against Purdue, they weren't either, and they held themselves accountable and responded. UVa can win a lot of games this season with its defense. It just needs the offense to find a pulse at times. It won't take much. The 'Hoos just need to get close to 60 often. Sunday night, I think we saw the formula for how this squad needs to play going forward.
"There's no substitute for experience, nor is there a substitute or secret recipe other than showing up every day and working your tail off," Bennett said.
While there will be greater challenges ahead, a team could do worse than almost defeating North Carolina by 10 after nearly losing by 30 just a few days earlier.
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