Tale Of The Tape: No. 7 Virginia vs. UMass

No. 7 Virginia travels to Uncasville, Connecticut for this weekend’s Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament, and will go up against Massachusetts today at Mohegan Sun Arena. The game will tip off at 12 noon and will be televised on ESPN News.

The Cavaliers (4-0, 1-0 ACC) will face either Arizona State or St. John’s on Sunday, depending on the outcomes of today’s contests.

UVA survived a scare from Anthony Lamb and Vermont earlier in the week, as Lamb put up 30 points and the Catamounts gave the ‘Hoos all they could handle for the majority of the evening. Facing a one-point deficit late in the game, senior forward Mamadi Diakite rose to the occasion defensively in crunch time, putting the clamps on Lamb over the final five minutes as the Cavaliers prevailed by six, 61-55.

Virginia sits at No. 4 in the country in the KenPom ratings — No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency and 40th in adjusted offensive efficiency. UMass is also unbeaten at 5-0 on the season, but the Minutemen check in at No. 179 nationally, according to KenPom (168th AdjO, 197th AdjD).

College hoops fans will recall the days in the mid-90s when then-coach John Calipari and star forward Marcus Camby led UMass to a No. 1 ranking in the polls and a trip to the 1996 Final Four, but the program — which was forced to vacate their NCAA Tournament wins due to Camby’s subsequent admission of being paid by an agent — hasn’t been to the Big Dance but once in the past 20 seasons (2014).

The Cavaliers have claimed both meetings in the all-time series — both decided on neutral floors — defeating the Minutemen in the second round of the 1993 NCAA Tournament in Syracuse (with Calipari at the helm), and then again in the Maui Invitational in November of 1996, UMass’ first season under Bruiser Flint.

This year’s team, led by third-year head coach Matt McCall, is off to a hot start, having registered wins over UMass-Lowell, Fairfield, Northeastern, Central Connecticut and Rider. The Minutemen are a relatively young bunch, with only four upperclassmen on the roster, including junior starting guards Carl Pierre (13.2 ppg) and Keon Clergeot (7 ppg).

Rounding out the starting five are sophomore forward Samba Diallo (10 ppg), freshman center Tre Mitchell (a consensus four-star recruit that averages 12.6 points) and freshman Sean East (13.4 ppg, team-high 6.8 assists), with sharpshooting leading scorer T.J. Weeks, another talented frosh that puts up 14.8 points a game in just 24.4 minutes, coming off the bench.

Both East and Weeks average a pair of steals for the Minutemen, who are forcing close to nine takeaways per game. Mitchell and Diallo lead the team in rebounds with six each per contest, while graduate transfer center Djery Baptiste (Vanderbilt) leads UMass with 2.2 blocks per night. 

UVA sophomore point guard Kihei Clark posted a career-best 15 points in Tuesday’s win over Vermont, including a 3-for-4 night from downtown, while Diakite (19 points) and fellow senior forward Braxton Key (14 points) also matched their career highs as Wahoos in the scoring category.

The ‘Hoonicorn, 7-foot junior center Jay Huff, got the first start of his Virginia career against the Catamounts (9 points, 7 rebounds) and is averaging 11 points, 8 boards and a team-high 1.8 blocks on the young season. With five more blocked shots of his own, Diakite (122 career swats) will pass Kris Hunter (1997-99) for fifth place on the school’s all-time list. 

Under Tony Bennett, the ‘Hoos have won six consecutive in-season tournaments (2018 Battle 4 Atlantis, 2017 NIT Season Tip-Off, 2016 Corpus Christi Challenge, 2015 Barclays Center Classic, 2014 Charleston Classic and 2013 Emerald Coast Classic), which includes a string of 14 straight victories in such contests. UVA has also won a nation-best 29 in a row in the month of November.

A win over UMass would push the streak to 30 games and put the ‘Hoos in Sunday’s championship game at 1 p.m. (ESPN). The Mohegan Sun Arena (capacity 9,323) opened in 2001 and is the home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.

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