Braxton Key is basically Kyle Guy
The biggest storyline from Wednesday night is undoubtedly the shooting performance of Braxton Key. His two clutch threes that came with 4:50 and 1:28 left provided the Wahoos the definitive gap they needed to seal their third straight victory. On the night, Braxton scored nineteen points and nabbed eight rebounds as he shot 4-6 from deep and 3-4 from the charity stripe. Hopefully, this is a sign that with the healing of wrist, his shooting efficiency will improve as well.
With Woldetensae finding his stroke, Diakite beginning to hit from outside again, and Braxton starting to heat up, the Virginia offense is much less constricted than it had been. All of a sudden, with those three guys on the floor plus Huff and Clark, this team can spread legitimately spread a defense out. None of those guys are consistent high-volume shooters, but every little bit helps and they’ve started to round the corner as an offense.
Turnovers were not an issue
A 35% three-point shooting night coupled with a mere eight turnovers is music to the ears of each and every UVA fan who has painstakingly endured the offensive struggles this team has experienced. Overall, the team’s decision-making as a whole was impressive on Wednesday night. Granted, Clemson’s zone didn’t necessarily look to prevent adjacent passes, but they did collapse on ball handlers on the interior, and the ‘Hoos were, generally, up to the task. The plague that is a lack of ball handlers will rear its head soon enough, but for now, it’s encouraging to see this team hold their turnover number in single digits.
Jay Huff the shutdown defender?
Over the last few weeks, Jay Huff has improved so much of what has kept him off the floor in the past. His hedging off ball screens against Florida State was mind-bogglingly beautiful for basketball nerds like myself. Against Clemson, his performance defending Aamir Simms was shocking. I’d expected Huff to see limited minutes due to Simms proficiency as a hybrid big man, but he was up to the task, playing thirty-five minutes and holding Simms to 6-16 shooting. His four blocked shots were also critical as he protected the rim and helped to force Clemson to jack up a whopping twenty-eight three-point shots.
Along with his impressive defensive night, the Hoonicorn contributed ten points on the offensive side of the ball, and even registered a double-double, bringing in ten rebounds to pat. Huff seems to have solidified his role on this team, and with it, the foundation for a potential leap in production either later this season, or next year. All to say, we’re starting to see that enormous potential play out in front of our eyes, and gosh darn it, it’s exciting.
Kihei Clark goes hot and cold
Ten assists to a meager four turnovers is an efficient, effective performance from Clark, but his 0-3 shooting and sole point is, on the surface, frustrating. In the previous seven games, Kihei is 3-23 from three-point range. Fortunately, superior shooting from Woldetensae and Key has made up for Clark’s struggles, but if Kihei is hitting shots, this offense will take another step forward.
That said, Clark certainly took on the role of distributor in this last game, and he do so beautifully as he kept the offense humming for the majority of the night. Yes, there were cold stretches, notably at the beginning of the second half when the ‘Hoos couldn’t buy a bucket, but that’s the natural outcome of a less-than-average shooting team colliding with a zone defense predicated upon extending out to shooters. Bottom line: Kihei’s getting more and more comfortable as the season progresses and this team is better for it.
Thank you, defense
As UVA faithful, we’ve become immune to defensive firewalls, but holding Clemson, a decent ACC team, to fourteen points in the first half is ridiculous. That, and Clemson’s overall 32.7% shooting from field goal range is indicative of how elite this defense is. We sometimes forget, this defense is the fifth best rated defense (KenPom) in the nineteen years of KenPom’s recording of adjusted defensive ratings, and when you look at the raw numbers, not adjusted for opponents, it’s the best defense over that time period, 1.5 points per possession better than any other. No, that number doesn’t account for Virginia’s 75th toughest schedule so far, so take what you will from those numbers. But, despite this team’s struggles on the offensive end, we have to evaluate the defense in a vacuum and acknowledge that what this team has done is historic.