A 50-49 final score through forty-five minutes of play is practically unheard of, and the combined 38.2% field goal percentage was, well, putrid. Despite scoring a measly five points in the remaining eleven minutes of play, the ‘Hoos found a way to come out on top. The defense was stellar, and despite a poor shooting performance, the offense made enough plays to push the team over the top. Sure, this kind of result can be disgruntling, but an ACC win against a hot Notre Dame team is nothing to scoff at, no matter how it was achieved. But believe it or not, ugly wins are still, in fact, wins. With that in mind, here are four storylines from Tuesday night’s win.
Mamadi Diakite steps up
Following a sub-par performance in Louisville, the fifth year came up big Tuesday night. The only Wahoo in double figures, his twenty points carried the Cavaliers. Most notably, his turn-around jumper with twenty-seven seconds left tied the game at forty-seven and effectively sent the game to overtime. Diakite’s aggressiveness in the mid-post was great to see, and his defensive versatility was critical as his ability to defend guards allowed Bennett to play him and Jay Huff together. While the backcourt did the heavy lifting in Louisville, the frontcourt won this game for the ‘Hoos.
Jay Huff is blossoming
With another superb defensive performance, Huff put it all together in this game. Nailing two threes, a turn-around hook shot in the post, and then limiting John Mooney on the other end, Huff has become something of an x-factor for the Wahoos. His last second contest (without fouling) of Mooney’s potential game-winner was a perfect defense on such a shot. Obviously, he’s still awfully inconsistent, but when he’s on, the ‘Hoos are hard to beat.
Tony Bennett gets tricky
Coming out of a Notre Dame timeout with twenty-one seconds remaining and the score tied, the Irish were looking to run the clock down and then try for a last second score. To disrupt the play Mike Brey had set up, Bennett instructed Kihei Clark to foul the ball handler before the play could be set into motion. Clark’s first foul came with fourteen seconds left, then waited until six seconds left, and then finally with three seconds remaining.
From what I can recall, this is the first time Bennett has instructed his team to purposefully foul at the end of the game when leading or tied. Fortunately, Clark had yet to pick up a foul, and the Irish were four fouls from the bonus, so there were ample opportunities to keep Notre Dame from any well-developed play. More than anything, it’s exciting to see Bennett exploit any potential advantage in late game scenarios as it has become apparent that this year’s team has inspired him to do so.
The final stretch
With seven games remaining, the Wahoos sit at 16-7 with a one game lead for fourth place in the ACC at 8-5 in conference play. Going 5-2 in the final seven contests, including a win against either Duke or Louisville would likely solidify Virginia’s case for an at large bid in the NCAA tournament. Anything less than that, and the situation becomes more sketchy, likely reliant on a big result in the ACC tournament. But with wins in four of their last five games, it’s looking like the Cavaliers have things under control and are poised to make a run in the final quarter of the regular season.