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'Scrappy' Wahoos Overcome Offensive Woes To Get Key Win Over Fighting Irish

Game Highlights

Jay Huff scored eight points from the 9:51 to 8:02 marks of the second half in Tuesday's game against Notre Dame at John Paul Jones Arena. They were the only points he scored all night, but they were big.

They were part of a 10-0 Virginia run that put the Cavaliers back in front of the Fighting Irish by five, and they held on from there, surviving an ugly but nail-biting overtime in which they scored three points compared to the Irish's two and didn't make a field goal, but won, 50-49.

Huff sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a nice little turnaround in the post during his personal streak, which also included a block of Notre Dame's Dane Goodwin.

“That was a great stretch, and we had another 3 coming for [Huff], but we turned it over at a crucial time," Tony Bennett said, referring to a tipped pass between Kihei Clark and Huff when Huff was a little bit lazy reaching for the ball. The Irish turned the turnover into two points to stop the mini run.

"I thought [Huff] took a good step tonight. He’s been doing some really good stuff. Whether it was a drive or a play, I was really pleased," Bennett added.

"It was a good time," Huff said with a chuckle.

Huff also contributed on the final play of regulation, stuffing John Mooney's attempt at the rim, sending the game to the extra session. Bennett commended Clark for the job he did fouling Prentiss Hubb three times to waste time and disrupt the Irish's final play when UVa had fouls to give.

Mooney, who basically records a double-double just by waking up on gameday, had 14 rebounds but only 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

"At one point during the game, me and Mamadi started trapping [Mooney]," said Huff, who also recorded nine boards, with Virginia winning the battle on the glass 41-34. "And I think for a little while, that worked pretty well. We went back and forth between that and just playing him one-on-one. He's a heckuva player, so to hold him to 11 points, 4 of 14, I think we take great pride in that. It was a team effort. The way we play defense, very rarely is it one person locking somebody up, unless it is Kihei."

Diakite had success guarding Mooney as well.

"I was just trying to get up in his grill and not let him breathe," he said.

Huff had his moment in the spotlight, but Diakite was the Wahoos' star on a night when he was their only player in double figures, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, a block, and a steal.

"Yes, usually I think about the second guy that's coming to trap me, not the guy who is guarding me, because I know I'm quick, and my quickness can get me to the basket real quick," Diakite said. "But today, they weren't bringing the second guy, so I was like, 'All right, well I'm going to take that, they want me to go to work I guess, so I just utilized it."

Virginia scored just one field goal in the last 11 minutes and change of game action, and it was a significant one, with Diakite getting the ball down low on the Wahoos' final regulation possession. He backed down Mooney then hit a little fadeaway in the paint to tie it at 47 with 25 seconds left. Diakite also scored the team's previous field goal before that with 6:47 left, and he also made the first two of UVa's three free throws in overtime.

"Mamadi has such a joy and a contagious energetic spirit about him, and sometimes when you're that way, you can kinda go up and down, but I thought he's getting better in terms of being steadier, and I thought he led well -- we talked about that," Bennett said.

In overtime, Virginia (16-7, 8-5) went 0 for 4 from the field and 3 of 5 from the line, but Notre Dame (15-9, 6-7) went 1 for 4 from the field and 0 for 2 from the line as Mooney missed a pair that would've given the Irish the lead when it was 49-all. He also fouled Braxton Key on the rebound after the second miss. On the other end, Key air-balled his first free throw -- a fitting embodiment of the offense in the game. His second one, predictably, was too strong and hit the back of the rim, but UVa got the JPJ bounce as it went in for the game's final point -- still with 2:04 to go.

The Irish didn't even get the ball in Mooney's hands on the final play, a gaffe in my opinion. Hubb ran off of a Mooney pick, drove inside the 3-point arc, then found Rex Pflueger in the opposite corner for a heavily contested 3 that missed (with Casey Morsell guarding him, maybe too closely again, but to be fair, no foul was called this time, unlike at Wake Forest). Key grabbed the rebound and smartly threw the ball downcourt to avoid having to go to the line again.

“We thought there would be a high ball screen with [Mooney]," Bennett said. "We ... said, ‘Try not to foul. Make them earn.’ They do some good stuff. They’ll sometimes do a dribble handoff, because they had enough time to do a few things. They’ll keep on doing dribble handoffs, they’ll fake a dribble handoff and go. In that spot, it’s just, ‘Don’t give anything too easy at the rim. Make them get a tough shot.'" 

Clark had nine points (one 3), four rebounds, three assists, two turnovers, and a steal. Tomas Woldetensae scored Virginia's first five points on a fadeaway 2 and then a 3, but proceeded to go 1 of 8 from beyond the arc. Morsell hit UVa's other 3 -- his first in five games -- and added another jumper inside the arc for five points, his highest output since scoring nine against N.C. State on Jan. 20.

"Casey gave us a lift, he really did," Bennett said. "He had five points, a 3, a couple buckets, and he defended well. We needed it all."

The Cavaliers shot 37.3 percent from the field, 5 of 20 on 3-pointers, and 7 of 11 at the line. Late missed free throws continued to be an issue, with Diakite missing the front end of a one-and-one with Virginia up 45-44 with three minutes remaining in regulation. Huff missed the front end of a one-and-one in overtime with the score knotted at 49. But the 'Hoos were lucky, because the Fighting Irish were as punchless on offense as they were. They shot 32.8 percent from the field, went 6 of 26 from beyond the arc, and 3 of 7 on free throws.

Virginia turned it over 13 times, and Notre Dame just seven times. But as expected in a game like this, the Cavaliers were able to limit the damage, with the Irish turning those mistakes into just eight points.

"When you play in overtime and ‘first to 50 wins’ as someone said, every point matters," Bennett said. "Tomas obviously shot it so well last game and wasn’t as efficient tonight, and Braxton was off but he had [12] rebounds, and it was just kind of finding a way. That’s sort of been the storyline for us all year. In these games we’re getting very tight down the stretch, and it’s about if we can make plays. In this case, I don’t know if we made plays, we just got a couple of stops or they missed. I don’t know how to look at it, but we’ll take it."

It was a game where for long stretches, it didn't look like Virginia really deserved to win. It was admittedly tough on the eyes, even for UVa fans who are accustomed to fending off criticism of their team's style of play. But as we head into the final month of the season and every win counts as the Wahoos try to make it back to the NCAA tournament, don't tell that to Bennett. 

"This is a different year, but it's our year," Bennett said. "And our way is our way. And we're scrapping, and we're fighting, and I know it's not perfect, but we've got each other's back and we're all for one."

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