When UVA 3’s are falling, Cavaliers are unbeatable

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photos: UVA Athletics

Virginia is unbeatable when it is hot from the 3-point line, but Tony Bennett is more concerned about the Cavaliers’ defense as they head into the postseason on Thursday night in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

UVA is 13-0 this season when making at least six 3-pointers in a game, 14-0 when shooting at least 35 percent from the 3-point line. The Cavaliers are 8-9 when they don’t.

Acknowledging that fact, Bennett is still more concerned about whether his defense will be at the top of its game when the Cavaliers take on the winner of Wednesday night’s Clemson vs. Boston College contest (Clemson is a 7.5-point favorite).

“It’s important to get good looks, but we’re not a dominant scoring team where we just feed it in the post, go to work, score,” Bennett said this week in a pre-tournament media session. “And we don’t always get a ton of free-throw attempts and that, quite honestly, our free-throw percentages haven’t been good (UVA is No. 339 out of 351 Division-I schools at 64.73 percent).

“All those things matter when you’re on a fine line, so the ability to get guys rhythm shots … but certainly, offense, you can’t always be sure if it’s going to be there, are you going to make [shots].”

Instead, especially in tournament play, Bennett insisted, you have to know what the defense is going to bring to the table. The coach could only recall one instance this season when his defense was off and still won, that coming at Florida State during UVA’s eight-game winning streak.

Still, it’s difficult to ignore the Cavaliers’ success when the 3-point shooting has been on the money. Even the defensive-oriented Bennett acknowledges that the points from Bonusphere can be the difference.

“You know the old saying, shooting covers over a multitude of sins, and so you want that, but you don’t rely on it … but that is an interesting statistic,” Bennett said of the unbeaten record when the 3-point shooting has been good.

“Certainly you look to get 3-point shots with Jake Groves, Isaac McKneely and Taine Murray, and why [Murray] was in that last game, because he stretched the floor a little bit. Of course, Reece Beekman did too (was 3 for 4 at the arc).”

Murray, who has come on toward the end of the season, was 5 for 10 shooting in UVA’s win over Georgia Tech, including 2 for 5 from beyond the 3-point line.

As a team, Virginia is third in the ACC in 3-point field-goal accuracy at 36.7 percent for the season. McKneely leads the Cavaliers in that department and is eighth in the ACC in 3-point field goals per game with 2.43 (73 attempts). Wahoo fans would like to see McKneely get more shots, considering that ACC leader Blake Hinson of Pitt has 106 shots from the arc, 3.42 per game.