Key focusing on defense, rebounding until he becomes comfortable in cast

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Braxton Key slams one down earlier this season against JMU (Photo by Jon Golden).

Some observers believe the key for Virginia becoming a contender in the ACC this season is Key … Braxton Key.

The 6-foot-8, 230 senior guard returned to action Wednesday night against visiting Stony Brook after missing the previous three games with an injured wrist. Key suffered the injury late in the Arizona State win on Nov. 24 and had surgery upon his return to Charlottesville.

Wearing a cast on his left hand — his non-shooting hand — Key clocked seven minutes in the win over Stony Brook, but he was clearly rusty from the three-game layoff and exam break. He attempted one shot, a 3-pointer, and missed, but managed to grab a rebound during his floor time.

Prior to the injury, Key averaged 10.3 points and was the Cavaliers’ leading rebounder with 8.3 per game.

Still, his return was a welcome sight for Virginia, ranked No. 9 nationally and standing at 9-1 overall (2-0 in the ACC) heading into Sunday afternoon’s home game against South Carolina (3 p.m., ABC).

“It’s huge,” UVA center Jay Huff said in reference to having Key back. “We need him. The cast is not on his good hand, so he can still shoot. The impact he has on a game is huge so it’s great to have him back, even if he’s just working his way back in.”

Tony Bennett wasn’t sure how much playing time Key would get in the first game back, but was glad to see him back in uniform.

“It was just going to be how he looked, how comfortable he was,” Bennett said. “He’s practiced a few times. It’s similar to what Kihei (Clark) had (last season).”

Bennett told Key that he would have to be more conservative offensively until he becomes more comfortable with the cast, but that he should focus on being locked-in defensively and on the glass.

“It will be a work in progress,” Bennett said.

Clark, UVA’s point guard, played with a cast on his non-shooting hand during a portion of last season’s early schedule, and offered some advice for his teammate.

“I just tell him not to get discouraged,” Clark said. “He’s playing with one hand, so he just tries to help the team in any way he can. We’re a team, unity is one of our pillars, so just trying to help the team in any way possible, and if he makes a mistake, you just have to make up for it on the next play. I just keep telling him to keep his head up.”

Huff said that he admired Key’s work ethic when the senior couldn’t fully practice, but still worked on as many drills as he could and remained conditioned as best he could.

“That’s hard to do when you’re injured,” Huff said. “He’s handled everything very well.”

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