Virginia gets past Demon Deacons thanks to Woldetensae’s hot hand

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo by John Markon

Danny Manning may be coaching a losing basketball program but he hasn’t forgotten basic basketball.

Give Manning credit for keeping his Wake Forest team in a zone defense for every possession of Sunday afternoon’s game against Virginia. The Deacs’ coach was well aware of the visiting Cavaliers’ shooting woes coming into the weekend.

Virginia, one of the worst perimeter shooting teams in the nation, got a surprising lift from junior-college transfer Tomas Woldetensae’s seven 3-pointers to escape Winston-Salem with a 65-63 overtime win. Woldetensae made 7 of 14 shots from beyond the arc, while the rest of his teammates connected on only 1 of 16 from the distance.

Woldetensae’s 21-points were a career high at UVA, and so were his seven 3-pointers made.

“It was huge,” Tony Bennett said of Woldetensae’s performance. “With our shooting percentages, people are really going to back off. He stretched the defense and he can shoot it, so that was really good to see.”

At the postgame chat, Bennett wasn’t sure what the overall shooting percentages were, but they were close to what Virginia has experienced all season: 36.5 percent (22 of 63) from the field, and 26.7 percent (8 of 30) from the 3-point line. What hurt the Cavaliers’ effort was that they missed eight free throws (11 of 19, 57.9 percent).

What helped Virginia is that Wake shot worse from the field, 17 of 54 (31.5 percent), although the Deacs were better from 3 (8 of 19, 42 percent) and from the free-throw line (21 of 24, 87.5).

For the Cavaliers, the win improved their record to 13-6 overall and 5-4 in the scrambled ACC. UVA is now in a three-way tie for fifth with NC State and Virginia Tech, a game behind fourth-place Syracuse.

UVA was actually down 40-28 early in the second half before putting together a 21-6 run that vaulted them to a 49-46 lead with 4:24 to play. The Cavaliers led 56-53 with 19 seconds remaining before the Deacs tied it at the free-throw line in the final two seconds and sent the game to overtime. 

Virginia led 65-62 on a Mamadi Diakite stickback with a minute to play before Olivier Sarr made one of two free throws with 42 seconds to go. Woldetensae missed a 3-point attempt with 12 seconds showing before Wake called a timeout with eight seconds left to set up the final shot. Sarr fought to get clear for a short jumper but did not get the attempt off in time and the game ended.

It was encouraging for Bennett to see his team keep fighting as it pulled out another ACC road win. The Cavaliers defeated Georgia Tech on the road last week.

“Every game we’ve lost, we’ve either been ahead or tied under four or five minutes,” Bennett said. “For this team, how do you figure out how to win? And that was deflating how it ended in regulation, but the ability to either come up with a stop, get an offensive rebound — again, we had moments where we missed free throws, missed breakaways, missed dunks.

“But to come away with one was important because in this league, as you’re seeing, whoever is ready and whoever is playing the best has a chance. Everybody is in play.”

Virginia had a chance to win it in regulation, leading by three with less than 19 seconds to play, but freshman Casey Morsell fouled Wake shooter Andrien White at the 3-point line, giving White three free-throw attempts. White, who was Wake’s leading scorer with 21 points, made all three with 1.7 seconds remaining, sending the game into the extra period.

“We were going to switch some ball screens and we wanted to foul them on the floor,” Bennett said of the final play of regulation. “We were not going to foul unless it’s on the floor. That was the official, ‘Let’s put them on the line. We’re not going to foul unless it’s on the floor.’ That was the plan and sometimes the best-laid plans … it didn’t work.

“We did a good job actually guarding and I think in that situation, Casey thought, ‘Well, there’s only three or four seconds left, he’s in a tough spot.’ We tried to foul and we didn’t do it very well, so that was tough.”

Bennett thought his team showed toughness and grit in the overtime period. There certainly were good moments and some head-scratcher moments.”

It was UVA’s eighth straight win over Wake, which fell to 9-10, 2-7 in the ACC.

Woldetensae, a native of Bologna, Italy, came to Virginia from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. His shooting reputation preceded him. The junior college All-American guard shot 47 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from the 3-point line at Indian Hills.

He said after his season-high performance that it felt great to be able to contribute to a win. Woldetensae said that coming off an early-season wrist injury bothered his shot, but since it has healed, his shooting has improved and he takes more shots in practice.

It had clearly bothered him that his shot was off.

Virginia is going to need Woldetensae’s contributions during the remaining games on the schedule in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Florida State, which is among the best in the ACC, is coming to town Tuesday for a rematch after UVA fell to the Seminoles in Tallahassee, 54-50, two weeks ago.


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