Diakite’s points, leadership important down homestretch for Wahoos

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

With a week between games, Virginia fans are hoping that the Cavaliers’ two-game winning streak will continue when they return to action on Wednesday night at home against Clemson.

Beating Wake Forest on the road, then following it up with a win over No. 5 Florida State, one of the hottest teams in the country coming into JPJ with 10 consecutive wins, was impressive. Now, the 14-6 Wahoos (6-4 in the ACC) have entered the weekend tied for fourth in the league with Syracuse (the Orange hosted Duke in a late game Saturday night).

One of the keys for the Cavaliers in the month of February will be how senior forward Mamadi Diakite performs. He leads UVA in scoring with a little over 12 points per game, but when he puts up more than his average, it’s usually a good thing for the Wahoos.

That was certainly the case in the Florida State game when Diakite had a huge impact on the win.

Playing 37 minutes, 20 seconds against the Seminoles, Diakite was near perfect with his performance. He connected on 6 of 10 field-goal attempts for a game-high 19 points.

Diakite was also 3 of 3 from beyond the arc, and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line to go along with nine rebounds as UVA killed FSU on the glass, 36-23, in rebounding. Diakite also added an assist.

The Virginia senior was particularly effective from the perimeter during one critical portion of the game when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers from opposite sides of the arc. The three 3’s matched his career high.

“Virginia was clever with the ball, took us off the dribble, and those three 3’s that the big fella [Diakite] hit from the corner were huge plays for them,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.

UVA trailed the Seminoles, 30-23, early in the second half until Diakite drilled a 3 to spark an 8-0 Wahoo run, with another 3 on a pass from Tomas Woldetensae only 38 seconds later.

“We’ve had two really good games against [FSU],” Tony Bennett said afterward. “We’ve been in all the games we’ve lost. We’ve been right there and we didn’t flinch.

“We weren’t perfect, but enough big plays were made. You’ve got to do that down the stretch. You can’t win those games unless you take the moment and make a tough play.”

Diakite made plenty of those. 

He’s scored in double figures in all but four games this season and UVA has gone 2-2 in those games (losses to Boston College and NC State).

If Virginia is to finish strong and return to the NCAA Tournament, chances are it is going to have to get big contributions from Diakite, one of the most athletic players to wear a Cavalier uniform.

That’s not all. They’re going to need his leadership as well.

Following the win over FSU, point guard Kihei Clark mentioned how Diakite is constantly on the younger players about keeping their confidence, particularly in shooting the basketball.

“I keep telling the young guys, the old guys know it already, to shoot the ball whenever they get it,” Diakite said. “I remember at practice, Kihei telling me that I am like a conscience to the guys.”

At that moment, Clark harped in, “Mamadi is saying, ‘Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it.’”

Diakite isn’t shy when it comes to putting the ball up.

“I was trying to get to my sweet spot, which is posting up down low on the block, but [FSU was] doubling me,” Diakite said. “So I was just going to take what the defense was giving me. That is what Kihei did. That’s what Braxton [Key] did.”

Playing close games hasn’t been a problem for the Cavaliers. Finishing them has to a degree, but the past two wins might be a signal that they are starting to figure some things out.

They certainly were effective at the free-throw line against the Seminoles. UVA hit 20 of 23 free throws in the 61-56 win.

“Elite Eight last year, Final Four, we’ve been there and that’s the reason that we were all clutch today,” Diakite pointed out about clutch free-throw shooting.

Bennett is working hard to get the utmost out of this team, which lost four starters and a ton of its scoring, shooting and leadership after winning the national championship.

In fact, in a recent interview on “The Jerry Ratcliffe Show,” on ESPN-Charlottesville, Virginia basketball legend Barry Parkhill said this just might be Bennett’s best coaching job in his 11 years with the program.

Diakite was asked if he agreed that Bennett was coaching with more energy this time around.

“Definitely,” said Diakite, a fifth-year player for Bennett. “He knows he has to take every little play, defensively and offensively. When the refs don’t call what they’re supposed to call, it kind of hurt us a little bit. As leaders, we didn’t care. I was telling him not to worry about it and that we were going to get [FSU] defensively.”

Clark interjected again and cautioned, if not flat out teased Diakite about his remarks about the refs, because “He might get fined,” clearly a reference to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey being fined $20,000 for his public comments about ACC officiating after a loss last week.

If Diakite can continue to take what the defense gives him and he can continue to lead this team down the homestretch, Virginia just might make it back to The Dance.

Comments

  1. Bill says:

    Great article, as always. But the FSU coach is Leonard Hamilton, not Robinson.

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