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It's Only Wake Forest, But UVa Finally Pulls Out a Tight Win

Game Highlights

On Sunday, for the fifth time in six games, the Cavaliers blew a second-half lead in regulation.

But the catch is they won in overtime, and at this point, that's better than the alternative.

It was an ugly victory, and Virginia made many mistakes, but catapulted by Tomas Woldetensae's 7-of-14 performance from beyond the arc, a bevy of offensive rebounds, and a key Jay Huff 3, it defeated Wake Forest 65-63 for an ACC road win. It was the Cavaliers' eighth consecutive victory in the series.

Like Boston College, the Demon Deacons (9-10, 2-7) faced the Wahoos (13-6, 5-4) without their two best players, point guard Brandon Childress (a surprise scratch) and shooting guard Chaundee Brown (not as much of a surprise). The Eagles, who were missing Derryck Thornton and Nik Popovic, came away with a 60-53 win in that Jan. 7 contest, but this time around, the 'Hoos were able to snag a much-needed victory.

Wake Forest is not a good team, but when you've lost as many close games as UVa has recently, you'll take the win and move on. It wasn't a clean performance, but at the very least, hopefully the players gained some confidence by actually closing it out come crunch time. We know Virginia's defense will keep it in many ACC games, so just one W to show the guys that they can execute down the stretch could help as more of these situations arise.

For a while, it was looking like a carbon copy of the other ACC losses. Virginia trailed Wake by as many as 12 points at the beginning of the second half before it began its comeback with Kihei Clark hitting a fadeaway jumper while getting fouled, and adding the free throw. UVa took its first second-half lead when Mamadi Diakite poked the ball away from Isaiah Mucius, Braxton Key picked it up, ran a fast break, and found Casey Morsell for a layup and a 46-44 edge. The Cavaliers' run extended to 21-6 and a 49-46 lead with 4:26 left in regulation on Woldetensae's sixth trey. Could they hold on this time?

At first, the usual script continued to play out. Up 49-48, Diakite missed a pair of free throws. Torry Johnson completed a 3-point play to give Wake a two-point lead. After a miss each by each team, Clark passed up a 3, drove into the lane, and hit a nice whirling turnaround to tie the score at 51.

After two free throws by Adrien White with 50 seconds left, it was Huff's turn to step into the spotlight. Woldetensae drove the baseline and found Huff in the other corner. The big man, hampered by foul trouble throughout the game, banged the 3 to make it 54-53 with UVa. It was his only basket, but it was huge. Huff also had four rebounds and a block in 13 minutes.

After a pair of Clark free throws, Virginia was over the magical 55-point mark. In its four conference defeats, had the Cavaliers scored 55 points in regulation, they would've won those games. So as time wound down with the team up 56-53, it looked like that would be true again.

But then Morsell made a fatal error. He put the game's fate in the referees' hands.

White lined up a deep 3, and Morsell was playing excellent defense. He had his hands straight up at first, but at the last moment, he extended a hand toward White's hand, and they seemed to graze each other. The shot was way off, and the nearby ref blew his whistle. Maybe there wasn't contact, but Morsell gave the ref a chance to step in and affect the result, and you never do that, especially with ACC officials. If White had made the shot over good defense, you just tip your cap and go play overtime. But I think it was going to be off. Morsell will have to learn how close is too close in those situations. He should have a reminder every day, because this program is intimately tied to the same type of call that worked out positively last season.

In overtime, UVa never trailed. Key got the scoring started by rebounding his own miss in the lane for a putback. It was one of 18 offensive boards the 'Hoos collected as they continue to crash the glass at a higher rate than normal this season (they gotta score somehow, right?). Later in the extra session, Diakite rebounded a Key miss and scored to make it 65-62. Key had four offensive rebounds (eight total boards), and Diakite notched five (seven total) as Virginia won the rebounding battle 42-39. Clark had eight rebounds, and Woldetensae added six.

Woldetensae knocked down his final triple for a 61-58 advantage, and Virginia never trailed again. Funny enough, his first "attempt" came right after Clark was fouled on Virginia's first offensive possession of the game, so it wouldn't have counted anyway. But he airballed it. Luckily, he hit his next attempt on that same possession and was hot from then on. During his next make, he hesitated and still drained it. That's usually a sign of a bad shot, but it didn't matter for him Sunday. He was in the zone.

“It was big," Bennett said of Woldetensae's shooting. "They played a zone every possession. They packed it in and were going under screens. So, you have to make some shots; [Woldetensae] made 7 of 14 [3-pointers]. We needed that.”

Tomas' performance didn't really come out of nowhere. Heading into the N.C. State game, Woldetensae had made 17 of his past 40 attempts (42.5 percent) going back to the North Carolina matchup. The transfer has now made 13 of 26 attempts in the past four games. His seven against Wake were the most since the ACC tournament quarterfinal last season when Kyle Guy went 7 of 9 against N.C. State. After his slow start to the season in which he made 3 of his first 21, hopefully Woldetensae has emerged as the true 3-point threat UVa desperately needs on offense, someone that can shoot about 40 percent for the rest of the way.

Woldetensae said he had still been getting over an offseason injury and not getting much extra work in, but that's started to change.

“The comfort comes from extra shots," he said. "I have to be honest, due to my injury, I was taking it easy at first and giving it time. Lately, I’ve decided to go back to it and get in extra shots, and it shows.”

Woldetensae sported a nice all-around game as well in his 43 minutes, adding a block and diving for a loose ball to cause a jump ball that gave possession to Virginia. He led the team with 21 points. Diakite had 16, and Clark recorded 13 plus seven assists.

Virginia finally made some big plays when it counted, but again, there were too many mistakes that almost cost it another victory. The 'Hoos committed 14 turnovers, with Clark tallying four, including one that Wake turned into a 3 on the other end to make it 40-28, its biggest lead, at the start of the second half. Key, Huff, and Francisco Caffaro had two each. But Caffaro did make a layup while getting fouled plus his free throw, which is more than I can say for Key, who went 3 of 9 from the line. He missed two straight free throws in overtime, but Wake fumbled away the rebound out of bounds. Diakite made two consecutive in overtime, but missed two in a row with 3:14 left in regulation that would've made it 51-48 UVa. Clark was the only sure thing at the line, sinking all five of his attempts. Virginia went 11 of 19 at the line and has made a bad habit of missing them in the final minutes of these close games. With the team not shooting well from the field, converting at the charity stripe is essential.

The game started in a promising way for UVa as it watched Wake go 10 minutes without scoring. The problem, as has been the case all year, was that the Cavaliers only scored nine points in nine minutes themselves -- a 40-point, full-game pace. A Wake team that would've been buried already by better Virginia squads was down only 12-4 once it turned it on. In the final eight minutes of the first half, the Demon Deacons couldn't miss, making six 3s to take a 35-28 halftime lead. Wake scored an amazing 31 points in those eight minutes, better than a 120-point, full-game pace. I've never seen a team that cold get that hot before. When Morsell threw the ball off of Ismael Massoud's leg and it ended up in the hands of White as if it were a perfect pass, I could only shake my head as he knocked down the corner 3 for a 25-21 Wake lead. It seemed as if luck was not going to be on the Cavaliers' side again.

But perhaps a sign that Virginia's fortunes were going to be different in this game came earlier. Diakite's first shot attempt of the game was blocked by Olivier Sarr. But the ball fell right back into his hands, and Diakite was able to get off a long 2 that he made right before the shot clock expired. A little luck helped lift the Wahoos to a national championship, and now maybe it can lift them out of their slump.

Facing a team as bad as Wake Forest, which was missing its top two players, helped Virginia's luck, too, of course. Whatever the factors were that combined for the victory, it's always easier to learn lessons and still win. For most programs in college basketball, victories are hard to come by and should not be taken for granted. In the recent past, UVa has not been that type of program as it has racked up regular-season wins by the dozens. This year is different, though. The performance against Wake still leaves this team on shaky ground, but for now, any win is a good win.

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