Virginia Loses at Duke: ‘Hoos Looking Forward to Rematch in Three Weeks

By Jerry Ratcliffe

DURHAM, N.C. – Only minutes after the nation’s last unbeaten team – Virginia – went down Saturday night against No. 1-ranked Duke, the Cavaliers were already talking about the rematch.

In a game that lived up to every bit of the national hype, the Blue Devils escaped with a 72-70 triumph over visiting Virginia in the frenzied atmosphere of Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was only UVa’s second ACC loss in the past 26 games.

While it stung mightily, the Cavaliers, now 16-1 overall/4-1 ACC, left Tobacco Road with their confidence intact.

“We’ll be just fine, we’ll bounce back from this,” said junior guard Kyle Guy. “I’m definitely excited to play them.”

Guy reckoned facing Duke and its glorified group of freshmen, all projected to be first-round choices in the NBA Draft, to facing just that _ an NBA team.

Asked if he could compare anything to the size of Duke’s team, and Guy didn’t blink.

“Yeah, an NBA team,” Guy said. “That’s the only thing I can think of in terms of talent and size and length. We’re probably not going to see another team like that.”

Well, until they meet the Blue Devils in the rematch on Feb. 9 in Charlottesville.

It was a frantic second half that featured a dozen lead changes.

Duke, desperate to avoid losing back-to-back home games for only the third time in this century (the Devils lost this past week to Syracuse), took advantage of that size and talent to gain a seven-point separation late in the game and held on to thwart a UVa comeback. Duke’s 6-0 run gave the Devils a 67-60 lead with 69 seconds to play before the Cavaliers cut it to 71-68 on a Guy 3-pointer and two Braxton Key free throws with 8.9 seconds to play.

De’Andre Hunter, who led UVa with 18 points, hit a jumper at the buzzer for the final two-point margin.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said to beat a team like Duke in that kind of setting would require his team performing at an “A” or “A-minus” level in certain aspects of the game, pointing out shortcomings on not blocking out on the boards, losing defensive position by reaching for the ball, or committing careless turnovers.

He said his team was a bit unsound.

“I told our guys in the locker room that it wasn’t our effort,” Bennett said. “We had our chances buy 63 percent (Duke’s field goal percentage the second half) …we weren’t solid enough. Credit [Duke’s] play and ability, but we have to be better than that.”

Boasting possibly the first two players that will be selected in the NBA Draft, phenom Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish, Duke was almost unstoppable at times. Williamson, a beast at 6-7, 285, and a 45-inch vertical leap, entered the game as the only player in the country averaging 20+ points per game and shooting better than 60 percent from the field.

Williamson bulled his way through Virginia’s “Pack-Line” for 27 points (10-16) and drew numerous fouls from myriad of Cavaliers trying to guard him. He was 7-14 at the free throw line.

Coupled with R.J. Barrett’s game-high 30 points (11-19), and Duke was hard to stop.

Those two Blue Devils combined for 57 points and 21 made field goals, while the rest of the Duke team scored 15 points and a mere 5 field goals.

Virginia, which came into the game leading the ACC (in conference games only) in 3-point field goal percentage at 46.3 (its nearest competitor was Louisville at 37.7), suffered its worst shooting night from behind the arc since league play began earlier this month, a mere 3-for-17 (a season-low 17.6 percent).

Part of that was by plan, part by just missing shots the Cavaliers would normally make.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in college basketball history, and he didn’t earn that distinction by just rolling the ball out on the court. He put in some things that he felt might disrupt Virginia’s 3-pointers.

The Blue Devils switched positions, one through five, something Duke hasn’t done this season. Missing point guard Trey Jones with a shoulder injury, the switching gave the Devils a size advantage at every position.

“We felt that we could not defend [Virginia’s] baseline floppy curls,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re so good. Guy is the closest that I’ve seen to J.J. [Reddick] in this league. Not saying he’s J.J., but he’s close. A lot of people can’t shoot turning but he can.

“So, we just said we’re going to try to limit their open threes, and we did a really good job of that with the switching,” Krzyzewski added. “We got beat sometimes on the handle but they’re two-pointers.”

As a counter, Bennett tried to spread the floor more and attack Duke’s middle, a strategy that worked well with Guy, Jerome, and Hunter driving the lane and scoring effectively.

“Yeah, their defense put up a lot of pressure, but it was easier to go by [them] because they were so stretched out,” Guy confirmed. “I think we probably should have taken a little more advantage of that instead of calling a lot of ball screens and trying to run off screens. A lot of our points came when we got in the lane.”

In fact, Duke only outscored UVa in the paint, 46-42 in spite of the Devils’ size dominance.

While Guy and teammate Ty Jerome said they wished they could take some of the missed 3-pointers back (they were a combined 3-for-12), they were not discouraged.

“What was the score, 72-70?” Jerome asked. “We usually win when we score 70. The offense was definitely not the problem. We missed shots we normally make.

“We’ll see them again at home,” Jerome added with a twinkle in his eyes. “We had that game. We lost it. We made mistakes that we can control.”

With the loss, the nation’s longest road winning streak of 13 games, vanished as well as UVa’s 12-game ACC road winning streak, the fourth-longest in conference history.

As good as Virginia is and has been – the Cavaliers came to Durham having beaten the last nine ranked teams they have faced – they were somewhat haunted by the fact that UVa’s basketball program hasn’t fared well against the No. 1 team in AP’s Top 25. In fact, the Cavaliers are 1-30 all-time vs. AP’s No. 1.

The difference in almost all the Cavaliers’ collective minds on this night was agreed upon.

“We didn’t get the stops down the stretch that we needed,” Hunter said. “They’re great players, but it was our defense.”

Something that Bennett can use as teaching examples in the days ahead. Something that will keep a fire burning in Guy’s and Jerome’s bellies until Feb. 9.

“I can’t wait,” Jerome said. “I hate losing. We’ll see them again.”

“This game might go down as the game of the year, might not,” Guy said. “It was a battle, a war in my eyes. Hopefully next time we’ll come out on top. They played pretty good and we didn’t in a two-point game.

“There were a lot of shots that we normally hit that we didn’t, and a lot of plays on the defensive end that we normally make that we didn’t,” Guy concluded. “We’ll be just fine. We’ll bounce back from this. I’m definitely excited to play them again.”

You can bet Bennett will make sure his team has it’s A or A-minus game for the rematch in Charlottesville.


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