Virginia had the perfect game plan to exploit FSU’s shortcomings

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

Tony Bennett said after the win over Carolina last week that his team can’t live and die with the 3-point shot, but the Cavaliers sure made a living off the triple on their trip to Tallahassee on Saturday.

Virginia was 11 of 22 from beyond the arc against the struggling Seminoles in a 67-58 win over Florida State.

Bennett knew going in that FSU ranked No. 305 nationally in 3-point percentage defense (36 percent) and took advantage. He also knew that Leonard Hamilton’s squad was both inexperienced and stressed due to injuries, meaning that Hamilton couldn’t go with his usual strategy of playing 10 guys. Instead, the Seminoles starters are posting unusually high minutes of court time without relief, and simply can’t defend certain spots on the floor.

“Virginia was playing a team that is not aggressive enough to get out and contest those shots,” Hamilton said. “We did not have the same level of energy to contest those shots as we have been accustomed to.

“In fact, that is the last two or three games that we have played where we have been very ineffective with getting out the level of energy that it takes to contest those shots.”

As a result, UVA’s Armaan Franklin (20 points) and Ben Vander Plas (15) combined to make 7 of 13 triples in the game (they were 6 of 15 vs. UNC).

“Virginia is more free-flowing in the past,” Hamilton said, pointing out that UVA has lots of players who can shoot the 3.

UVA, which improved to 13-3 overall and 5-2 in the ACC, has won three-straight conference games and has an opportunity to extend the streak this week when they host rival Virginia Tech and travel to Wake Forest.

Bennett was just as pleased that his team played aggressively on the other end of the court, noting that the Cavaliers are trending in the right direction defensively. UVA’s defense clamped down on FSU’s top three scorers and limited them to a combined 11-of-46 shooting (23.9 percent) and only 4 of 15 from 3-point range (26.7).

“We made it fairly difficult for them to get good shots,” Bennett said. “They made some tough shots, but we didn’t let them have too many easy ones. That’s what you’re always working towards in practice and in games.”

It was the second-straight game that Bennett showed that his team had the flexibility to play big or small. UVA went small in the second half against Carolina, playing 6-foot-8 Vander Plas at the five and 6–7 Franklin at the four. Bennett decided that he would go with a bigger lineup with Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick, had FSU started its 7-4 center Naheem McLeod, but when the Seminoles elected not to, Virginia went with its smaller lineup and also decided to be aggressive, something Florida State just wasn’t equipped to handle.

With Vander Plas and Franklin bombing from outside, it drew FSU’s defense out and opened up driving lanes, just like against the Tar Heels earlier in the week. The Seminoles had no answers and were caught on their heels trying to contain UVA’s attacking strategies.

“Our guys psychologically seem to be pacing themselves to try to get through the heavy minutes that they have been challenged to play,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think in my coaching career, I have ever had a stat sheet that had guys playing this many minutes.

“I thought right from the beginning of the game, this was not the pace that we practice at, offensively or defensively. I thought that we were a step slow.”

Give Virginia credit for recognizing FSU’s dilemma and attacking on both ends of the floor to take a win and sweep the series against the Seminoles, keeping UVA on the heels of ACC-leading Clemson.