Huff's Blocks, Big Moments From Clark, Key, Diakite Lift Wahoos Over Blue Devils For Another Clutch Win

Game Highlights

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Everyone was invited to Jay Huff's block party Saturday.

Except Duke. The Blue Devils were rudely rejected, over and over again.

With single-game blocks leader Ralph Sampson in the house, Huff notched a near triple-double with 15 points, 10 blocks, and nine rebounds, Braxton Key recorded 14 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks, and Mamadi Diakite put up 14 points, five boards, and a block as Virginia took down No. 7 Duke, 52-50, in front of a raucous John Paul Jones Arena crowd to move into third place in the ACC. UVa has now won six in a row and nine of its past 10 games, with six of those victories coming by three or fewer points.

"We come into the locker room, and [assistant athletics director for public relations Erich] Bacher told me, 'Jay just had 10 blocks,'" UVa coach Tony Bennett said. "We got a little door knocker and, [the players] didn't know [about Jay's 10 blocks], I said, 'Bach, knock the door knocker 10 times.' So he knocks it 10 times. I said, 'You know what that was for? That was 10 blocks by Jay Huff!' Everyone went crazy in the locker room. And then they calmed down, and I said, 'And now the bad news. Ralph Sampson had 12,'" he said with a chuckle. "Really happy for Jay ... where he's from [Durham, N.C., where Duke is located] and the game he had. We needed everything he brought. ... We needed everything everyone brought. What timing and length [Huff had]; we needed it all."

As amped up as Huff was on defense, he was just as electrifying on offense, bringing the house down with a series of thunderous dunks and alley-oops, with special recognition going to Tomas Woldetensae for one half of an oop that he threw from beyond the 3-point line, and also to Kihei Clark for the other assisted oop.

"I'd be a liar if I said I didn't get a little bit more amped up for Duke games, in my past years and this year obviously," said Huff, who joked that he was going to review the film and make sure he only had nine rebounds and came up just shy of the triple-double. "I grew up going to Duke games all the time. I have a picture with Coach K on my fridge back home."

Diakite hit the go-ahead shot over Wendell Moore Jr. with 39 seconds left, a little drive and spin on the baseline that saw Moore take a tumble.

Diakite was only 5 of 13 from the field, but the five makes included two 3-pointers (2 for 4), and he also did a good job of backing down Moore on a couple of occasions for baskets.

"Absolutely," Bennett said, when asked about Diakite taking advantage of mismatches. "Our sideline out-of-bounds [play], or underneath [the basket] out-of-bounds [play], he kind of waited. You're right, he had great feel, he sort of back-dribbled a guy down, and got the shot, and then the play he made late."

Virginia (21-7, 13-5) had to withstand three attempts from Duke (23-6, 13-5) to tie or win it at the end.

On the first, Tre Jones drove into the lane, tried to pass to Vernon Carey Jr., but had his pass knocked away by Key. The ball went right back to Jones, who threw up a shot that hit the backboard and the rim but missed, and a mad scramble ensued on the rebound, with UVa gaining possession on a held ball.

On the second, Carey had a good look at the basket, was delayed from going right up by Key and Diakite, then when he finally did go up, Huff had caught up from behind and slammed the ball off the backboard for his final emphatic block.

"With four seconds left, I wasn't thinking too much about a fifth foul," Huff said. "I was just trying to time it and hope that he went up when I jumped. I think I jumped a little early actually, so it kinda worked out well."

On the third and final attempt by Duke, Jones got a pretty clean -- but deep -- look for 3, and the shot clanged off the rim.

Bennett said he was pleased with the team's defense on Carey and Jones, who led the Blue Devils with 17 points each on 6-of-11 and 6-of-14 shooting, respectively. Carey added 10 boards and three blocks, while Jones tallied five rebounds and two assists. Virginia native Javin DeLaurier was the only other Blue Devil to score at least six points.

“[It was] terrific," Bennett said of the defense on Carey. "He’s such an excellent player and well-schooled, and he’s hard to handle. I’ll watch the tape, but I thought we did a really good job. There were a few times maybe we weren’t perfect, but overall, I thought we defended the way we had to in the interior."

In particular, Bennett singled out Diakite's defense on Carey.

"[Mamadi] at times allowed us to not double," Bennett said. "He was ... on [Carey], who’s a load. Mamadi guarded him one-on-one at times. He had that look in his eyes. When Mamadi is guarding like that, and Jay is protecting the rim, that’s a formidable two-man backline.”

I remember a sequence when it was 45-45 with about four and a half minutes left, and I was mesmerized by the way Diakite was staying in front of Carey. It reminded me of Akil Mitchell's defense on Jabari Parker in the 2014 ACC tournament championship. Simply excellent.

Bennett was reminded of a former Dukie himself when watching Jones rise up and make three 3s, two of which came in the game's final 10 minutes.

"A couple of times, I had visions of [Tre Jones’] brother [Tyus] rising up and making those 3s," Bennett said, referring to Tyus Jones hitting a pair of big second-half 3-pointers that helped the Blue Devils rally from an 11-point deficit and then seal a 69-63 win at JPJ on Jan. 31, 2015. "Kihei didn’t inch up enough to bother him on a couple of those 3s that he hit. I remember his brother did that to us, just daggers back a few years ago. I really had that thought when I saw it: 'What is going on with this family?' They’re winners, and they’re special. But overall, we guarded the way we needed to and made enough plays.”

Luckily, Jones missed his final two 3-point attempts, and Duke only made 4 of 17 overall, shot just 30.5 percent from the field, and went an unspectacular 10 of 15 from the line. Virginia only made three 3s but only tried 10 and shot 42 percent from the field and converted 7 of 10 at the charity stripe.

Clark made UVa's other trey, and it was a big one.

Early in the second half, the Wahoos were finding points hard to come by. Then, DeLaurier missed a breakaway dunk off of a turnover that would've made it 29-25 Duke. On the ensuing UVa possession, Clark missed a floater, got his own rebound, then sunk his 3 to make it 28-27 UVa. Duke eventually went up 35-28, and when it was 31-28, Diakite and Huff bumped heads and left the game momentarily. To me, that magnifies Clark's 3 even more. Without it, it would've been 35-25 Duke at a minimum. Can you imagine how much air would've left JPJ had Duke taken a lead of 10 or more points, UVa had gone the first five-plus minutes of the second half without scoring, and then two of your best players have to leave the floor after banging heads? That five-point swing with DeLaurier's miss and Clark's 3 was HUGE.

Clark's 3 occurred at 18:39, and Virginia didn't score again until Key got a dunk with 14:39 left. Thanks to the sequence of events described above, it was just 35-30 at that point. Key made another big play during the stretch, when he blocked one of Carey's attempts off the backboard at 31-28.

That period early in the second half showed how important each basket was in this game, and that the 'Hoos did a good job of making sure Duke never went on a huge run. Another stretch that I thought was crucial came in the first half. It was significant that Virginia got out to a 9-3 lead, because then Duke stormed back with a 15-4 run to go up 18-13. But UVa's great start meant that Duke's run ONLY made it 18-13.

It was 25-25 at the half. After the Blue Devils went up 35-28, the Wahoos outscored them 24-15, including 8-5 after it was knotted at 45. Virginia continued its masterful job of closing tight games the right way, improving to 10-5 in ACC matchups decided in single digits and 6-0 in the past six contests that have been decided by three or fewer points (Wake Forest, Notre Dame, UNC, Pitt, VT, Duke).

“We’ve been in those spots a lot," Bennett said of how the Wahoos continue to pull out these heart-stopping victories. "You have to make plays defensively as much as offensively. They were both made. Duke is so good defensively. I don’t know if we could have found any more points than those 52. They make it so hard with their pressure. I’m so impressed with how hard they work defensively. Certainly, a credit to making plays and in being in those spots a lot."

Clark finished with seven points, five assists, and four turnovers. UVa had 15 turnovers, and Key was the biggest culprit with six. Stattmann was the only other Cavalier to score, making a nice spin move and left-handed finish off of the backboard in the first half. Virginia was strong on the glass, winning that battle 38-33.

It was just Virginia's second win in seven games against Duke, and its first at home over the Blue Devils since Feb. 28, 2013. It's definitely a huge victory that probably locks up the Wahoos' at-large NCAA tournament berth. Comically, computers are continuing to rate Virginia pretty lowly, especially since it is a 21-7 major conference team. Specifically, the NCAA's NET ranking has become the target of UVa fans' ire. After the win, Virginia moved up one spot to No. 50, while Duke remained at No. 6. None of that probably matters, though. Everything else about the Cavaliers says they are a tournament team. The games have been close, but winning is the name of the game, and Virginia is doing that lately, almost exclusively.

With two regular-season games left, UVa has one chance to damage its resume (Miami) and one opportunity to boost its resume (Louisville). Then, in the ACC tournament, it's likely any team UVa faces will be of a fairly good quality. It's just a matter of how high up the seed list the 'Hoos can advance now. I'm sure there's no 1 or 2 seeds that want to tangle with the defending champion Cavaliers and the Pack-Line defense in the second round of the Big Dance.

"A month ago, we were supposed to be done or in relegation or whatever," Diakite said, apparently blending his knowledge of European soccer with American college basketball. "... We didn't care about that, we just put our heads down and focused on what we could control."

"We knew that we could've won all of those [tight] games because they were all really close," Huff said of Virginia's struggles in January. "We had some team meetings ... and realized it doesn't have to be a down year. People have said that, but it doesn't have to be."

Computers and media members, underestimate the Wahoos at your own risk.

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