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In Relative Offensive Explosion, UVa Takes Rematch With Boston College

Virginia gave up 65 points -- and won by double digits. Not something I was expecting to type just a couple of weeks ago at any point the rest of this season.

The Cavaliers got remarkably balanced scoring from their starters, with all five getting into double figures, recorded another win, avoided a bad loss, and hit their high-point mark for the season in a 78-65 victory over Boston College on Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena.

Braxton Key and Kihei Clark had 17 points each, Tomas Woldetensae and Jay Huff both had 14, and Mamadi Diakite put up 10. UVa went 10 of 17 from beyond the arc, shot a season-high 57.8 percent from the field, and went a solid 16 of 22 from the line.

Woldetensae led the team in the deep-ball barrage, going for 4 for 8, making three in the first half. Jay Huff went 3 for 5, all in the first half, and his final trey at the buzzer was from way deep, what we like to call Ty-land. Even Kody Stattmann got in on the fun, making 2 of 3. Clark went 1 for 1, but it came on a hilariously inaccurate alley-oop attempt to Huff that somehow went in. At first, it was counted as a 2-pointer. Clark could be seen asking the referees to check it. He didn't mean for that to be a shot, but once it went in, he wasn't about to not get credit for a 3.

Woldetensae has been the most visible member of the team who has gotten hot from beyond the arc, but it isn't just him. On the whole, the Cavaliers are shooting much better. According to stat guru Danny Neckel, UVa has made 42 percent of its 3s in its past six games, which ranks first in the ACC and 15th in the nation in that span. Virginia is now up to 30.3 percent on the season, just outside the top 300 nationally. For a hot streak to only get the 'Hoos just outside the top 300 tells you how bad things had gotten about a month ago.

"The emergence of Tomas [Woldetensae] shooting the ball, the efficiency of Mamadi [Diakite], and Jay [Huff] shot it well today," Tony Bennett said. "That certainly helped. I do think we are trying to run good stuff, and we are a little smoother and more efficient with it, but it certainly makes a big difference when you make some 3s."

Virginia (18-7, 10-5) came out firing, scoring 13 points by the 15-minute mark of the first half, better than a 100-point pace. BC (13-14, 7-9) kept up, though, hitting its fair share of shots as well. Despite some good offense, UVa looked a little sloppy and unfocused at times, culminating in a turnover around midcourt when Woldetensae's pass was picked off by Nic Popovic, who then cleaned up a missed layup by Jay Heath to give the Eagles their only lead of the game at 16-15. The next trip down the floor, though, Woldetensae made up for his mistake -- much like he did at North Carolina -- by hitting his first triple to give the Cavaliers the lead for good.

Later, there was a frustrating sequence when UVa gave up two rebounds off of missed jumpers, and the Eagles made a 3 to draw to within 20-19.

But Virginia finished the first half with a flourish, scoring 10 points in the final 2:24 to build a 35-23 lead at the break.

BC cut its deficit to six with 14:46 remaining in the second half, but the Wahoos eventually built the margin to as many as 20 points in an effort that has been rare this season, but not from 2013-19. This year, UVa has just three double-digit ACC wins: 65-39 over Virginia Tech, 48-34 over Syracuse, and Wednesday night.

Additionally, it was the first time in 11 games (that Jan. 4 win over the Hokies) that a UVa contest was decided by more than eight points. A team that has grown experienced in close games and become adept at finding ways to pull out victories in the closing minutes and seconds didn't need to draw on that skill set on this night. For the first time in a long time, Virginia fans could breathe easy and relax as the game was nearing its conclusion.

The defensive effort was a little off, especially in the second half, with UVa giving up 42 points. BC shot 45.9 percent from the field and 8 of 22 from beyond the arc. Popovic led the way with 22 points and made a trio of 3s. Jay Heath scored 18, and Jairus Hamilton 11. Barely any fouls were called in the first half, but I thought Virginia received a favorable whistle in the second half. The Eagles had just two free throw attempts all night.

"I thought defensively in the second half, we were not at our best," Bennett said. "This game was great, our offense kind of carried us, but we talked about not getting too comfortable."

It's worth noting that BC did collect a number of garbage points -- 20 in the final five minutes and seven in the last 1:18. But with UVa's newfound offense, it didn't matter.

"We were more efficient, more guys scoring, and I think there is a comfort level in the last few games that has showed, even against Louisville,” Bennett said.

Indeed, the numbers show an offense that has been steadily improving. In the past seven games, the 'Hoos are averaging 63.1 points, scoring at least 61 five times. In the five games before that, UVa averaged 54.4 points (and that's counting an overtime total of 55 against Syracuse, rather than the 43 it put up in regulation), going over 60 just once.

It goes without saying that the more a team scores, the harder it is to beat, but with UVa's defense, this is even more true. When the Wahoos get into the 60s, good luck beating them. You're gonna need it.

Clark was a maestro with the ball in his hands, totaling eight assists and only two turnovers. A pair of back-to-back passes to Key in the second half really impressed me, especially the one where he drove the baseline and dished it to Key right under the basket at a difficult angle.

"I thought he had a very good second half offensively," Bennett said of Clark, noting the balance makes things easier on him. "They can’t just stack the deck against him. They have to be a little more aware, exterior and interior, and that makes a big difference for opportunities, and I think he is letting it come.”

Virginia committed just nine turnovers. That's fewer than 10 turnovers in three of the past five games after a stretch of at least 10 turnovers in eight consecutive games.

"We continue to emphasize what we think is going to be key for us to reach our goals, and one of those things is sureness with the ball," Bennett said. "Without losing your ability to run your offense, to score, but being mindful, strong and tough. There is work on it in practice, and hopefully it carries over at times in games."

The battle on the boards was pretty even, with BC squeaking out a 27-26 edge. Huff paced the team with eight rebounds and added three blocks. Diakite tallied seven boards and two blocks, and Key recorded six rebounds and four blocks. UVa is up to 4.6 blocked shots per game, ranking 37th in the country.

The victory avenged -- but did not erase -- the Wahoos' worst loss of the season, when they dropped a 60-53 decision to the Eagles in Chestnut Hill on Jan. 7. No matter what, that defeat is going to stick to the resume. But it was nice to see UVa blow out a team for the first time in a while. Unfortunately, though the Cavaliers looked good, especially offensively, the win didn't really boost their chances of making the NCAA tournament. A victory over BC at home is a Quad 3 win, which means Virginia just held serve. There was no real reward in winning, only the chance to lose ground with a loss.

So no, the win was not that significant, of course, it was more about avoiding the bad loss. But the more important thing is HOW Virginia looked while winning. The Wahoos look like they may be hitting their stride as the most crucial part of the season nears. UVa has five regular-season games left, with two chances at home for big Quad 1 wins and three opportunites to gain Quad 2 road victories.

If Virginia can continue to consistently score in the 60s ... well, I'll let you do the daydreaming. 

Note: Casey Morsell rolled his ankle in the second half and left the court with some assistance. There was no official word on his status. Personally, I did not think the injury looked too bad, but I don't want to speculate too much.