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Key's Unlikely 3s Buttress Scuffling UVa Offense As Wahoos Hang On Against Tigers

Game Highlights

If Braxton Key was the MVP of Wednesday's game against Clemson at John Paul Jones Arena, make his girlfriend co-MVP.

After the team got back from the Wake Forest game Jan. 26, Key said he went right into the gym to shoot 3-pointers, with his girlfriend rebounding for him.

"She was like, 'How much longer?' and I was like, 'Till I can make enough,'" Key said. He said the shooting session lasted probably 60 to 90 minutes.

It paid off. Key, who came into the contest shooting 17.8 percent from behind the 3-point line, went 4 for 6, scored 19 points, and rescued the Cavaliers from offensive ineptitude, sending them to a 51-44 win in the process.

Tony Bennett was much more simplistic in his observation about what Key did differently in this game.

"He made 'em," Virginia's 11th-year coach said with a smile. "Very astute observation. We needed those. ... [Clemson's] matchup 3-2 gave us some problems. ... Sometimes you just need someone to jump up and make a shot or a big play, and Braxton did that [with two late 3s and his free throws]."

Key, who had made just eight 3s all season, hadn't sunk one since the Syracuse game Jan. 11 and hadn't made two in a game since the Jan. 4 Virginia Tech contest. He had never converted more than two in any game as a Wahoo.

His first trey put UVa's first three points on the board as the 'Hoos (15-6, 7-4) got out to a 14-2 lead on the Tigers (11-11, 5-7).

Key said playing with the cast on his left wrist was "very difficult" and attributed that to some of his struggles.

"I was basically trying to shoot with one hand, and I was forcing a lot of 3s also," said Key, who is now just wearing some bandaging on his left wrist. "Coach and I talked before one of the games, and he said, 'Just let it come. We know you can shoot the ball. You're forcing it right now. Try to get downhill and ... make plays for the team.' But seeing those [3s] go in definitely gave me a lot of confidence."

But Clemson got up off the mat after its slow start, switched to the zone Bennett referenced, and stymied Virginia's offense. Key missed two layups, but the rest of UVa's players contributed to the struggle. The score was 26-14 at the half, as the two teams combined for 40 points, just two more than the 38 the schools' football teams combined for at halftime of the ACC championship.

"Zones are weird," said Jay Huff, who scratched out a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. "Everyone's zone is pretty different. ... We weren't too worried, we just knew we just kinda had to figure out how they played it."

Virginia held 33-22 and 35-26 margins in the second half but went for a five-minute stretch and then a four-minute stretch without scoring. All the while, Clemson chipped away, bombing away 3 after 3 and making enough to make it interesting and put the crowd in a tense mood.

"If a team doesn't come back, we are like, is something wrong here?" Huff joked, alluding to Virginia playing in so many close games.

The Tigers cut the lead to two once, 36-34, with 6:03 left and three once, 42-39, with 2:19 remaining.

Both times, unlikely deep-ball hero Key splashed one through the net.

Virginia shot 37 percent from the field, and the shaky performance extended to the free throw line, where it went 10 of 17. But the 'Hoos made 7 of their last 9 to close out the victory. Key, shooting below 60 percent at the stripe this season, went 3 of 4.

Despite the so-so overall field goal shooting, the Cavaliers were pretty solid and selective from beyond the arc, going 7 for 20 (35 percent). The Tigers, meanwhile, lived up to their reputation of tossing up tons of 3s, putting up 28 and making 6 (21.1 percent). They were 32.7 percent overall from the field and went 4 of 7 at the stripe (57.1 percent).

Key's four triples came on six tries, and he added eight rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Mamadi Diakite scored 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting (1 of 3 on 3s) and also had eight rebounds, two blocks, an assist, and a steal.

In addition to his good offensive game, Huff played good defense on Aamir Simms at times, recording four blocks.

"I thought Jay did a real good job with his length with four blocks and grabbed some rebounds and made some nice plays," Bennett said, adding that Huff is adept at timing his blocks. "That's a hard matchup with our big guys, because Aamir can really step out and shoot the 3, as can [Tevin] Mack, though he didnt shoot it as well. Those guys that screen and separate are tough, so I thought our bigs did a pretty good job defensively."

Bennett also talked about Huff's overall defense, especially hedging on screens at the top of the key and Huff's improvement in that area.

"Sometimes he gets out there, and I thought he was a little more alert and quicker back to his man with using his arms [to block passing lanes]," Bennett said.

Huff and Bennett both said he's been working on not biting on shot fakes. As a fan, it can be especially frustrating to watch someone 7-feet tall do that when they don't need to. Huff noted assistant coach Jason Williford gave him plenty of motivation.

"Probably Coach Williford motivating me with a swift kick in the butt if I was gonna jump today on shot fakes. That's more or less what he was threatening," Huff said.

The redshirt junior center also talked about how his rebounding has progressed.

"I have been working on it, just drills where I try to snatch the ball. That's sometimes been an issue. Sometimes I try to tip it out too much," he said.

Kihei Clark went 0 for 3 from the field and scored only one free throw as Clemson cut off the driving lanes he saw playing against Florida State's aggressive man-to-man scheme. Clark had four turnovers but distributed the ball well with 10 assists. UVa only had eight turnovers, but seven of those came in the second half.

"We had a little more time to attack some hard ballhandling-sureness drills," Bennett said of the extra time off.

Tomas Woldetensae went 1 for 6 from deep for three points and added two steals. Kody Stattmann returned after missing two games with a concussion and contributed a 3 and a crafty left-handed layup for five points. But Bennett wanted to talk about his rebounding, and the Aussie did grab four.

"I thought he grabbed a couple big rebounds. ... That 3 was good. He had that one double-dribble in the backcourt at the end, but otherwise, he was steady," Bennett said.

Simms paced the Tigers with 16 points and made 2 of his 5 3s. Al-Amir Dawes recorded 11 points and eight boards. Mack tallied 10 points and seven rebounds, making 2 of his 9 3s.

Virginia has now beaten Clemson 10 consecutive times, and the Cavaliers have won three in a row after dropping four of five.

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