When it comes to rock fights, nobody does it better than Virginia, as Wahoos edge Irish in OT

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Jay Huff skies toward the basket against Notre Dame Tuesday (Photo by Jon Golden).

Tuesday’s “Late Night with Tony Bennett” might have flown under the radar of most college basketball fans, but for Virginia and Notre Dame, it couldn’t have meant more.

With a 9 p.m. start between two ACC bubble teams, a game that stretched into an intense overtime, the stakes were immense for two teams desperately clinging to postseason hopes. Neither could afford to lose.

After a 45-minute rock fight, which included the Cavaliers outscoring the Irish 3-2 in the extra period, Virginia prevailed when Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger missed a 3-point attempt with six seconds to go.

Virginia 50, Notre Dame 49.

“We played 45 minutes and we still couldn’t score 50,” said a dysphoric Irish coach Mike Brey, whose team was hoping to move up in the ACC standings with an upset. “That’s why I was disappointed. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get it because it felt like the fourth double-bye was up for grabs and Virginia put themselves in the driver’s seat with the win tonight.”


With the win, Bennett’s squad moved to 8-5 in conference play, a full game ahead of Syracuse and NC State, in a battle for fourth place, which indeed includes a double-bye in the ACC Tournament next month in Greensboro. Considering that both teams are fighting for their lives for an NCAA bid at season’s end, every win is precious, especially quality wins.

“We talked about that before the game,” said Virginia forward Jay Huff, who damaged the Irish during a 1-minute, 50-second span in which he drilled a pair of 3-point field goals, scored on a baby hook in the lane over massive Notre Dame post man John Mooney, and blocked a shot. “We were saying how in some ways a lot of people might not be paying attention to this game because its bubble teams, but it was a really important game for us. I think [Notre Dame] thought the same thing.”

Not only did UVA slightly tighten its grip on its position in this wacky, dog-eat-dog ACC season, but it continued its mastery over the Irish. Notre Dame has a 2-14 record all-time against Virginia and has never beaten the Cavaliers in nine regular-season tries since joining the league.

Both teams entered the evening with NET ratings — the new NCAA selection committee barometer — ranked in the 50s, so it will be interesting to see what results in the offing. Brey commented that he thought the ACC had four teams in the dance after Tuesday, pointing to UVA’s win.

Brey, who confessed Monday that getting a win over Virginia, especially in John Paul Jones Arena, would be huge for the Irish to not only breakthrough against the Cavaliers, but for his team’s resume for potential postseason.

“We’ve beaten beaten Carolina a couple of times, we’ve beaten Duke, and everybody else in the ACC, but we haven’t had any answers for Virginia,” Brey bemoaned.

Virginia has held the Irish to 58 or fewer points in eight of the last 10 meetings, which came as no surprise to their coach.

“We thought it would be a rock fight,” Brey said. “I told them it would be and it was. [Virginia] is probably more accustomed to the rock fights than us.”


While the Cavaliers are one of the premiere defensive squads in the country, they are lacking on the offensive end. In fact, much has been made of the fact that Virginia’s offensive efficiency rating (ranked No. 255 by Kenpom.com) is so bad that no Power Five team rated that far back has made the NCAA Tournament since those rankings were created 18 years ago.

True, UVA is ranked well into the 300s in both field-goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage, but none of that mattered against Notre Dame. The Cavaliers’ 37 percent (19 of 51) and 3-point shooting of 25 percent (5 of 20) was just good enough to eek out the win over the Irish, who actually shot worse from the field (20 of 61).

That’s what rock fights are all about.

“We needed it all,” Bennett said after both teams ran out of rocks in overtime. “Tomas [Woldetensae] obviously shot it so well last game (7 of 10 on 3-pointers at Louisville) and wasn’t as efficient tonight (2-9/1-8), and Braxton (Key) was off (1-7/0-3) but he had 13 rebounds, and it was just kind of finding a way.

“That’s sort of been the story line for us all year. In these games we’re getting very tight down the stretch, and it’s about if we can make plays. In this case, I don’t know if we made plays, we just got a couple of stops or [Notre Dame] missed. I don’t know how to look at it, but we’ll take it.”

Over the course of 45 minutes of fierce mano-a-mano action, it was really the only true Golden Domer who prevailed. Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite, whose dyed golden hair radiates from the court, put a hurting on the Irish. Diakite led all scorers with 20 points (7 of 15 FG, 6 of 8 free throws) and kept the Cavaliers in the game from wire to wire.

He also helped Huff battle Mooney, who has been a double-double machine for Notre Dame all season long, holding the big man (6-9, 245) to a mere 11 points (4 of 14 shooting) and 14 rebounds, a key in pulling off the win.

“I was just trying to get under [Mooney’s] grill and not let him breathe so that when he got the ball he wouldn’t want to drive,” Diakite said. “He got me the first time, but right after that I made sure he didn’t get to the basket.”

As Bennett said, “When you play in overtime and ‘first to 50 wins’ as someone said, every point matters. We needed it all.”

Virginia, a winner of four of its last five games, takes its momentum to Chapel Hill on Saturday night to take on the Tar Heels, tied for last place in the ACC standings. It’s another game the Cavaliers can’t afford to lose.


  1. Drew Corson says:

    That was a R-E-A-L-L-Y hard game to watch, it made me more upset than any game over the past few years. The last 10 minutes were dreadful – missed front ends of 1&1s, air balls, careless passes, bad turnovers – but the Irish stunk it up too. It feels like a very fortunate win to me. Hopefully we’re on the way to an 11-7 conference record and an easy decision for the Selection Committee. If not, we’ll be one heck of a good NIT team. Go Hoos.

  2. Dan White says:

    I’m not sure if they would be “one heck of a good NIT team”. Only because they won the Championship last season. The players that remain might not get motivated if they don’t make the Big Dance. But who knows, I hope they can.

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