Scattershooting: Can Wahoos continue dominance over Hokies?

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Virginia’s Kihei Clark sees an opening against Tech’s Wabissa Bede in January (Photo by John Markon).

Scattershooting around the ACC, while wondering why Virginia fans don’t make a bigger deal out of their team dominating rival Virginia Tech in basketball …

Over the last 18 games between the two programs, UVA has won 14. Tech has won the other four games by a grand collective total of seven points, two of those in overtime. Talk about domination.

The Cavaliers are a 3-point favorite by the odds makers in Wednesday night’s game at Blacksburg. UVA has a three-game winning streak in the series, a two-game winning streak at Tech, and won the first meeting this year by a 65-39 count.

Still, first-year Hokies coach Mike Young said that while he’s respectful of the rivalry, he won’t make a bigger deal out of it.

“It’s a very important game for all of Virginia Tech,” Young said. “I don’t make any more about the Virginia game than any other game.”

UVA’s Tony Bennett realizes that everyone in his program knows what’s at stake.

“Every game is so important at this stage of the year, and you play [Tech] twice a season. You know it’s an in-state rival and an intense atmosphere,” Bennett said.

This is a huge week for Bennett’s Wahoos. Should they beat Tech as predicted, UVA hosts Duke on Saturday. With Duke losing in double overtime at Wake Forest on Tuesday night, if the Cavaliers can beat the Hokies and the Blue Devils, then Virginia would be tied for at least third place in the ACC standings at 13-5, and own the tiebreaker over Duke.

Virginia played one of its best games of the year when it faced Tech in the first meeting, a blowout win in which the Cavaliers took away the Hokies’ strengths.

“We played solid defense, [the Hokies] missed some threes,” Bennett said. “We wanted to make them shoot as many contested outside shots, and they missed some uncharacteristic shots.”

Tech, which came into that game as one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, made only four. Part of that was UVA’s defense, part of it was just poor shooting.

“The mistake we made was in our movement [against UVA’s defense],” Young said. “There has to be constant movement from side to side. They are exceptional on that end of the floor, but for us to be successful on the offensive end, ball movement has to be better, we have to cut sharper and we have to make more shots. Some of those shots were under duress because they do a great job of contesting shots.”

Tech is 4-9 since that last meeting with Virginia, and the Hokies’ last two outings have been disastrous — a 102-95, triple-overtime loss to Miami and an 88-64 loss at Duke.

UVA has won seven of its last eight games, losing only a close decision at Louisville. The major difference in the Cavaliers becoming one of the hottest teams in the league has been the emergence of junior-college transfer Tomas Woldetensae, who is shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line over the past three games and has been on fire from beyond the arc in recent road games, making more than 50 percent of his shots.

“Woldetensae has really come into his own,” Young said. “He’s moving better, he seems to be comfortable within their offense and is really searching for shots. They do a nice job setting pin-downs for him around the baseline.”

Young pointed out that the Cavaliers are playing a bigger lineup with Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Woldetensae along with 5-9 point guard Kihei Clark. 

“They’ve come into their own the past three weeks,” the Tech coach said of UVA.

Bennett said that he settled on that starting lineup because it is the most experienced lineup he can put on the floor, that it’s fairly big and that it has, for the most part, gotten the team off to good starts.

Age is just a number

Much has been made of the fact that four ACC coaches are in their 70s, and another is 69.

Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is 75, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is 73, Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton is 71, Miami’s Jim Larrañaga is 70. Meanwhile, Carolina’s Roy Williams is 69.

Those coaches were asked during this week’s ACC coaches teleconference if their age ever was brought up by prospective recruits or their families, and if so, what was their answer if asked how much longer they planned to coach.

Most Syracuse observers believe Boeheim will hang it up when his son, Buddy, a sophomore on the team, graduates.

Krzyzewski said it almost never comes up in conversation.

“I’m never asked that really, well hardly ever,” Coach K said. “I think they see how I coach and that I’m not just sitting on my butt, and I’m still working on it. If they did ask, I would say I don’t know because that would be an honest answer.”

Larrañaga said his answer is that “I love coaching. I have a long-term contract and I plan to be at Miami a long time.”

The Hurricanes’ coach said his favorite time of the day is the two hours of practice he spends with his team, that he enjoys being around his players.

“If people say, ‘He looks like he’s tired and ready to retire,’ well if anyone saw our celebration after the three-overtime win against Virginia Tech, they’d know the answer,” Larrañaga said. “Did you see my dance moves? The players showered me with water and we played some music.”

UNC’s Roy Williams was a little more reflective.

“Some do [ask] and some don’t,” Williams said. “I tell them that I love what I’m doing, although this season is making me grow older. As long as I feel good, I’ll keep coaching.

“I used to be younger than the parents, then I became older than the parents, now I’m older than the grandparents. As long as I feel good and I’m not cheating the kids, I’ll keep going.”

Notre Dame’s Mike Brey said that observing those guys gives him inspiration for the future. Brey is a mere 61.

“What amazes me about that group, when I look around the room [at coaches meetings] and see the edge, and their competitiveness on the recruiting trail, the preparation they put in, and the energy they put into games, I respect the heck out of it,” Brey said. “They’re 10 years older than me and I look at myself and say, am I going to have that fire 10 years from now? To me, that’s encouraging.”

Tony Bennett the next Famer?

There’s no doubt in my mind that Virginia coach Tony Bennett will be a future member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

He’s been considered one of, if not the best coach in the country, for the past number of years. He got the Final Four and national championship monkey off his back last season, and I’ve got a hunch those won’t be his last.

There have been several ACC Hall of Famers, including Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Williams, Rick Pitino, Dean Smith and Lefty Driesell.

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner believes Bennett will get there some day as well.

“Tony Bennett is on his way to the College Basketball Hall of Fame if he stays at Virginia and doesn’t go to the NBA,” Pastner said. “He may not want it, but there will be a statue of him there in front of John Paul Jones Arena and his name will be on the court.”

Bennett chuckled when he heard Pastner’s comments, in Bennett’s typical aw-shucks style.

“I think they’ll build a statue of anybody when you give enough money,” Bennett laughed.

When UVA beat Pitt this past weekend, that put Bennett in strong company. He became one of only five coaches in the league to post nine consecutive ACC winning seasons, joining Krzyzewski, Smith, Williams and Vic Bubas.

Winning in the ACC was one of Bennett’s main goals when he left Washington State to move into what he considered the best basketball conference in the country.

He said that when he came to Charlottesville 11 years ago, he browsed through a media guide and couldn’t help but notice that while UVA had enjoyed some terrific seasons and boasted some great players, it had not fared that well inside its own league.

“There weren’t a lot of over-.500 ACC finishes, and that was intriguing to me,” Bennett said. “There were just a handful over a lot of years. That was one of the challenges for myself, my staff and this program. We’re thankful and blessed how this program has been. That’s nine years in a league which will certainly test you.”

Prior to Bennett’s arrival, Virginia’s longest winning streak of consecutive winning seasons in the ACC was a mere three, all during the Ralph Sampson years.

ACC Quote of the Week

Pitt coach Jeff Capel on Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite:

“He’s gotten better and better. One of the things [UVA] does a great job of is every big [man] they get, they redshirt so they can physically grow, understand their system and get better.

“In high school, Mamadi was long and athletic, could block shots. Now he can shoot the mid-range, shoot the three, put the ball on the floor a little bit, has a great face-up game. He’s a confident player because of the work he’s put in. He’s an outstanding college player and has a chance to play at the next level.”

ACC Stat of the Week

Florida State has now won 22 straight games at home, the longest active home streak in the ACC. The Seminoles are 15-0 at home this season, the only team in the league that can stake that claim.

Free throws …

# A lot of people believe that Notre Dame’s John Mooney should be the ACC Player of the Year. He’s the only player in the league averaging a double-double.

“He’s an amazingly gifted physical specimen,” Brey said of Mooney. “He’s almost machine-like. I’m trying to kick him out of the gym to get him some rest. He’s a man, handles his business like a man. His preparation is that of a man.”

# Has the ACC’s decision to go to a 20-game conference schedule helped or hurt? Some people believe it has hurt. Boeheim said two more wins for one team equates to two losses for someone else. The league is teetering on possibly having only four teams in the NCAA Tournament.

ACC Power Poll

Here’s our latest ACC Power Poll sponsored by Riverside Lunch, where you can find the best burgers in Charlottesville:

(W-L records as of 2/24)

The poll is collective votes by four veteran sportswriters, including Chris Graham and Scott German of the Augusta Free Press, Scott Ratcliffe and yours truly.

The Jerry Ratcliffe Show on ESPN-Charlottesville

We’re excited for the return of world-renowned author John Grisham to our show this Saturday morning (9-10 a.m.) on ESPN-Charlottesville, 102.9 FM and 1450 AM.

Make sure you catch Hootie and John and other special guests.

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