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Cavaliers fall at Duke; Has the ACC figured Virginia out?

By Jerry Ratcliffe

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Matthew Hurt had 22 points to lead Duke to its 66-65 win over #7 UVA. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Mike Krzyzewski called it epic, and maybe it was from Duke’s corner, a place from where the Blue Devils may have made their biggest leap of the year.

For Virginia, epic wasn’t part of the narrative. The Cavaliers left Cameron Indoor Stadium with more questions than answers after another licking at the hands of the Blue Devils. If anyone has had UVA’s number over the Tony Bennett era, it has been Duke. Head to head, Krzyzewski has a commanding 12-4 lead.

The lingering question for Wahoo fans must be, has the rest of the ACC figured out how to beat Virginia? Georgia Tech introduced it and nearly pulled it off. Florida State kind of Xeroxed Josh Pastner’s idea and pummeled the Cavaliers. Krzyzewski is no dummy. He recognized UVA’s flaws and handed the Cavaliers their first back-to-back losses of the season.

Still, with all the planning and scheming against them, Virginia still had a chance to win Saturday night in an Covid-empty Cameron. The Cavaliers missed three shots in the final 37 seconds, including Kihei Clark’s 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds.

Ah, there’s the rub. Teams have figured out that their odds are much better allowing Clark to take the money shot than Sam Hauser, Jay Huff or Trey Murphy III, all 40 percent 3-point shooters. Or, for that matter, Tomas Woldetensae, who was missing in action due to Covid contact tracing issues.

Clark is making only 32 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.

Who would you dare to take the winning shot if you were an opposing coach?

The Yellow Jackets, the Seminoles and the Blue Devils all decided it would be Clark. Meanwhile, those teams smothered UVA’s “big three,” leaving it up to the “others” to win it. Clark stepped up and made Georgia Tech pay by hitting four 3-pointers in the comeback.

North Carolina strayed from that game plan and was soundly beaten.

It’s not that Virginia is playing bad basketball, although the Cavaliers are turning it over too much and having more defensive breakdowns than perhaps the past three seasons put together.

Still, Virginia shot 60 percent from the field in the first half in Durham and trailed at the half. The Cavaliers gave up 14 fastbreak points in transition to Duke. That used to be an abnormality, but in Monday night’s loss at Florida State, the Cavaliers gave up 13.

Disturbing trends that makes Bennett shake his head in disbelief.

But it’s the other end of the floor that has suddenly become a problem.

Teams are daring Clark to shoot, and when left wide open he has to accept the invitation. He’s not getting offensive help from guards Reece Beekman, who isn’t playing with the aggression that Bennett would like to see, somewhat typical of freshmen, or from Casey Morsell.

While most teams would be happy with three reliable scorers on the floor _ Hauser, Huff and Murphy _ it seems that heading down the home stretch of the season Virginia needs a fourth. Woldetensae could be the answer, but he’s not much help back home with his feet propped up like the rest of us in front of a television.

While Hauser and Huff were closely guarded, they still managed to score and were efficient shooting the ball. Hauser was 7 of 11 (3-5 from the arc) for 19 points, while Huff was 9 of 15 (he missed the only 3 he attempted) for 20 points (he also had 12 rebounds).

Murphy on the other hand, took a mere two shots. He made ‘em both, but only two shots in 36 minutes?

“This was a game that wasn’t create, catch and shoot,” Bennett said after watching his seventh-ranked team drop to 15-5 overall, 11-3 in the ACC. “[Duke’s defenders] stayed at home, so you had to make some plays off the dribble, kind of similar to Florida State in some ways.”

Hauser did a better job of moving and hitting challenging shots (he hit his first five in a row). Huff took advantage of his size inside for some buckets. The Blue Devils were playing Murphy tight and prevented him from causing much damage.

“We tried to move [Murphy] and get some screens and then we tried to use him to screen at times, and flash and slip, but that’s something he’s got to keep adding to his game,” Bennett explained. “We have to keep trying to figure out ways to get him shots, where he can either bounce and rise up.”

The fact that Virginia owned the lead on one of Clark’s two 3-pointers (63-60) with 3:48 to play, and managed to score only two free throws from that point on, was disturbing to Bennett as well.

“To not score the last few minutes was tough,” Bennett said. “I thought Jay, when he got the rebound, I thought that was one where he could have gone back up. I think he kicked it out.”

Huff rebounded a Hauser miss in the final minute and kicked it back out to Clark to no avail, but Virginia’s seven-footer said he didn’t know who was behind him and didn’t want to force a shot.

Duke, which has lost only once at home against Virginia since 1995, was playing with its back to the wall. The Devils, now 10-8 overall and 8-6 in the ACC, is projected not to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.

Should Krzyzewski’s team win out in what’s left of the regular season and perhaps win the ACC Tournament, the Devils could salvage their season.

Beating Virginia was a key step, Duke’s only win over a ranked team this season, and its third straight win since sinking below .500 for the first time since 1999.

In that sense, it was an epic win for Krzyzewski, who always throws a wrinkle in to make Virginia’s task even harder. This time it was switching 1 through 5 and swarming Virginia’s scorers at every opportunity.

For the Cavaliers, who host NC State on Wednesday night in a make-up game, they still have time to find ways to counter opponents’ new found game plans against them.

“I said after Florida State, ‘All right, you hit some adversity. Are we going to learn and grow, are we going to grow from it and be ready to play, ready to practice on Monday, ready to play on Wednesday?’” Bennett disclosed.

Better decision making, particularly by Clark, is going to be a key part of Virginia solving the puzzle.

“We said try to attack rim if it’s there (on the final possession),” Hauser said. “Kihei felt maybe he could get a shot off. Something that, we maybe look at on film and maybe draw something up for that type of situation.

“Duke played great tonight. They kicked our butts in the first half for sure, and they made timely plays and winning plays at the right time.”

Huff was bummed out about the loss but believes there are better days ahead.

“It’s a tough one. It’s one of those that could have gone either way,” Huff said. “We can make a few plays, they don’t make a few plays. It’s definitely our game. We’ve been in that situation before. It happens. I think we’ll be better off for it.”

But only if the coaches can find ways to counter the strategy that has caused Virginia to drop two in a row.

Team Notes

  • Virginia fell to 15-5, 11-3 ACC
  • UVA is 6-3 in true road games (all in league play).
  • UVA shot 60 percent in the first half, but trailed 39-36
  • UVA outrebounded Duke 32-22

Series Notes

  • UVA is 52-122 all-time vs. Duke, including an 11-59 record in Durham
  • Five of the last seven meetings have been decided by two points or less
  • Head coach Tony Bennett is 4-12 all-time against Duke at UVA

Player Notes

  • Double Figure Scorers: Jay Huff (20), Sam Hauser (19), Kihei Clark (15)
  • Huff matched a career high with 12 rebounds
  • Huff has reached double figures in 15 games
  • Huff (2 blocks) recorded his 15th multi-block game (42nd career)
  • Huff recorded his eighth career double-double
  • Hauser scored 12 points in the first half on 5 of 5 shooting (2 of 2 from 3)
  • Hauser has reached double figures in 18 games
  • Clark tied a career high with three steals
  • Clark reached double figures for the 12th time
  • Tomas Woldetensae missed the game due to contact tracing

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