Tale of the Tape: Virginia faces Notre Dame in key ACC Hoops clash

One of the hottest teams in the ACC comes rolling into John Paul Jones Arena tonight, as Notre Dame looks for its first regular-season victory against Virginia since joining the conference.

The Cavaliers (15-7, 7-5 ACC) have claimed all eight of the previous regular-season conference meetings against the Fighting Irish (15-8, 6-6) since they hopped aboard in 2013-14. UVA is a perfect 5-0 all-time against Notre Dame in Charlottesville.

Virginia comes in ranked No. 51 by KenPom (3rd AdjD, 228th AdjO), while the Irish are right behind the Wahoos at 54th overall (25th AdjO, 125th AdjD). In the latest NCAA NET rankings, Notre Dame is 51st and UVA is 54th.

The ‘Hoos have picked up their play as of late, and despite falling behind by as many as 16 in the first half at Louisville over the weekend, they gave it everything they had and nearly pulled off an upset of the fifth-ranked, ACC-leading Cardinals.

Junior guard Tomas Woldetensae was en fuego at the KFC Yum! Center, knocking down 7 long balls and posting a career-high 27 points for the Cavaliers, who also got a career-best 23 — including 4 triples — from sophomore floor general Kihei Clark.

Dating back to the first meeting at Florida State on Jan. 15, Woldetensae has made exactly half (23 of 46) of his 3-point attempts, averaging 11 points a contest during that span.

Senior Braxton Key was the hero against Clemson last Wednesday, and the ‘Hoos have gotten significant contributions from Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff as well. If Casey Morsell or Kody Stattmann could also get going offensively down the stretch, it could lead to big things for Tony Bennett’s squad.

The Irish were 9-4 heading into the new calendar year and won at Syracuse before dropping four of the next five games and falling to 2-6 in league play. Since then, Mike Brey’s team has defeated Wake Forest (90-80), Georgia Tech (80-72), Pitt (80-72) and Clemson (61-57) to get back to the .500 mark.

Notre Dame is 3-4 in true road games, with losses at North Carolina, Maryland, NC State and FSU. The Irish are in the midst of a three-game road trip that concludes at Duke Saturday.

Notre Dame leads the ACC in assists (17.2 per game) and is the second-highest scoring team in the conference with just over 76 points a game. The Irish are shooting 35 percent (230 of 655) from 3-point land on the season, good for fourth in the league. They’re making a league-best 10 triples a game and only turn the ball over an average of 9.9 times per contest.

At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, preseason first-team all-conference Irish senior forward John Mooney averages 16.5 points and 13 rebounds (tops in the conference), and leads the ACC with 19 double-doubles.

Senior T.J. Gibbs (14.1 ppg), sophomore point guard Prentiss Hubb (11.8 ppg, 4.6 apg) and sophomore wing Dane Goodwin (11.5 ppg) have combined to hit 152 3-pointers on the season, and the ‘Hoos will have to keep an eye on all three out on the perimeter.

Senior Juwan Durham is a shot-blocking machine with 2.3 swats per contest, while 6-10 sophomore forward Nate Laszewski and graduate guard Rex Pflueger provide additional experience on a roster that didn’t lose a single player from last year’s team. Pflueger, who averages 5.8 points on the season, busted out for a game-high 18 points in the win against Clemson, including a 4-for-4 performance from beyond the arc.

A Virginia win Tuesday would keep the Cavaliers, who are a 4½-point favorite against the Irish, in the hunt for the No. 4 spot and a double-bye in next month’s ACC Tournament, but there’s still obviously a lot that can happen over the next few weeks. Four of Virginia’s final seven games are on the road, and the ‘Hoos will travel to Chapel Hill Saturday for an 8-p.m. tipoff with UNC (ESPN).


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