By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – University of Virginia junior Kyle Guy grew up about 150 miles away in Indianapolis, and he had a cheering section of some 60 friends and relatives at the Joyce Center. Most of the sellout crowd at the 9,149-seat arena, however, came out to support Notre Dame on this frigid winter day.
Alas for Fighting Irish fans, they had little to cheer Saturday afternoon. Notre Dame missed its first nine shots from the floor, and third-ranked Virginia scored the game’s first 12 points. During only one stretch did the home crowd really have occasion to come alive – when Notre Dame cut its deficit to 12 with a 11-4 run early in the second half – as UVA rolled to an 82-55 victory.
The Cavaliers (18-1 overall, 6-1 ACC), whose lone loss was to then-No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, have become accustomed to one-sided wins. They’re outscoring opponents by an average of 21.5 points per game this season.
“That’s men versus boys, flat out,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I was certainly very impressed with Virginia, and they kind of took our spirit. We couldn’t get into an offensive rhythm, and I thought it really affected us defensively and affected our fight, which was disappointing. We played discouraged, which a lot of people do against them.”
For the Wahoos, their fast start took the crowd out of the game.
“That’s huge for us,” junior guard Ty Jerome said. “The place was packed. And so for them not to ever get too loud, I think it’s a compliment to what we did today, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”
Bennett said: “It’s always important to get off to a good start, but certainly on the road, where maybe it pushes the crowd back a little bit early.”
Because of travel delays, the Cavaliers didn’t reach their hotel until about 11 p.m. Friday. That did not give them an excuse, Bennett said, to perform poorly Saturday.
“I told our guys before [the game], ‘If you’re ready to play, you’re ready to play, regardless of when you get here,’ ” Bennett said.
The ‘Hoos were ready, and their intensity rarely waned Saturday.
For the second straight game, five players scored in double figures for UVA, which was coming off a 68-43 thumping of Wake Forest. This time it was redshirt sophomore De’Andre Hunter (19 points), Guy (15), junior Ty Jerome (13), freshman Kihei Clark (career-high 12) and redshirt junior Mamadi Diakite (10).
The ‘Hoos are best known for their rugged man-to-man defense, but they’re formidable offensively, too, as Notre Dame (11-9, 1-6) learned Saturday.
“They play at their own pace,” Irish guard Dane Goodwin said. “They control the tempo of the game, and they really did that today.”
For Guy, one of the nation’s elite shooters, it was his fourth game against Notre Dame. In the first three, he was a combined 2 for 19 from the floor. Saturday, he was 6 for 8, a much more characteristic outing for the 6-2 guard, who was a third-team All-American last season.
He’s come a long way since his first game at the Joyce Center, back in 2016-17.
“I think a lot had to do with [the fact that] now I’m established,” Guy said. “I know I’m going to get X amount of minutes, and Coach trusts me. People like Ty and Dre, when they get it going, it frees me up too. When I was a freshman, I was still on that roller-coaster. I didn’t know if I was going to play 30 minutes or five.”
Many of the people who came to cheer Guy on Saturday have been watching him play for years, Bennett noted.
“He’s such a great ambassador for our program,” Bennett said, “and I love it when a guy can come home, and there’s a lot of people, family and friends, to watch him, and he can play well and we can get a win.”
Virginia has come to expect big games from the 6-5 Jerome and the 6-7 Hunter, and each was in fine form Saturday. Jerome hit 6 of 10 shots from the floor, matched his career high with nine rebounds, handed out a game-high six assists and didn’t turn the ball over. He also hit one of his trademark NBA-length treys in the second half, pushing UVA’s lead back to 16 and quelling the Irish’s comeback.
“Ty was efficient,” Bennett said.
So was Hunter, who again showed why he’s projected to be an NBA lottery pick. Working the high post flawlessly when Notre Dame played zone defense, Hunter was 9 for 15 from the floor, grabbed seven boards and had two assists.
In the Cavaliers’ zone offense, Hunter said, the key for him is “being patient, just seeing what the defense gives you, not being sped up, because usually in the middle there’s a lot of attention on you. Just trying to wait and see what happens and hit open guys and maybe create plays for yourself.”
When Notre Dame played off Hunter, he buried face-up jump shots. When the Irish crowded No. 12, he drove past them for layups. Notre Dame wanted to limit open looks for Guy and Jerome on the perimeter, which opened up lanes for Hunter.
“Leaving Dre one-on-one is a mistake,” Jerome said.
The Cavaliers also received sizable contributions from the 6-9 Diakite and the 5-9 Clark. In addition to scoring in double figures, Diakite tied his career highs in rebounds (seven) and blocked shots (four). He also played solid defense on Notre Dame’s John Mooney, who scored a team-high 15 points but missed 9 of 15 shots from the floor.
“I thought Mamadi was a key in this game,” Bennett said. “When they cut [UVA’s lead] to 12, we were having a little trouble. Mooney stepped out and hit a couple 3s, we weren’t getting back, and it was a poor stretch defensively for us. I re-inserted Mamadi, and his quickness, I thought, defensively allowed us to guard Mooney at the 3-point line.”
Diakite is one of the ACC’s most athletic players, and his shot-blocking ability “just adds another dimension to your defense, when you can rim-protect,” Bennett said.
Jerome said: “The one thing the coaches have always loved about him, I think, since the day they recruited him, was his rim protection. And him blocking shots is going to keep making our defense harder to score against. His play’s been huge for us.”
Clark fractured his left wrist on Dec. 3, an injury that required surgery a week later. He didn’t miss any games and continued to excel at on-ball defense, but he spent much of the early season with his wrist immobilized, first by a cast and then by a splint, and that hindered him on offense.
For the past four games, however, Clark has played with only tape on his wrist, and he expects to shed that in the next week or so. Against Notre Dame, he was effective from beyond the arc and on drives.
“The second half, I just tried to be a little more aggressive and get in the paint,” Clark said. “If I’m scoring, they can’t sag off of me and clog up the lane up for the other guys. If I’m making shots, it just helps the team even more.”
Hunter said Clark “always adds a spark on defense, but to see him score on offense was really big for us, and if he can continue to do that, that’ll really help our offense a lot.”
THEY SAID IT: With the victory, UVA improved to 12-2 all-time against Notre Dame. Among the postgame comments of note:
* Bennett on Guy: “He has a joy in him for the game, for life. I remember recruiting him and was just thankful that … he’d be willing to say, ‘I want to play in the ACC, I want to play at Virginia for what it represents.’ He had some great schools coming after him in this state, so that was a great recruiting get for us, and he’s certainly delivered.”
* Bennett on Jerome’s stat line: “He teased me. He was like, ‘Coach, why’d you take me out? I could have gotten a double-double.’ I said, ‘Why’d you get in foul trouble? You could have gotten a double-double.’ “
* Bennett on the Irish, who have been hammered by injuries: “They’re missing some guys, so their youth shows.”
* Guy on being favorably compared to J.J. Redick by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski after UVA’s recent loss in Durham, N.C.: “It means a lot to be mentioned with someone that’s as highly respected as J.J. Redick, and to hear it from Coach K himself, it means a lot.”
* Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs on the Cavaliers’ fast start: “When they punched us in the first half, we really didn’t have an answer. They’re a real good team, and that’s tough. It’s hard to start off down so much and have to fight back the whole game, especially against a good, active defensive team.”
UP NEXT: For the fifth time in seven games, UVA will play on the road, this time in Raleigh, N.C. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, in a game ESPN2 will televise, Virginia (18-1, 6-1) meets 21st-ranked NC State (16-4, 4-3) at PNC Arena.
The Wolfpack rallied in the final minute Saturday for a dramatic victory over visiting Clemson.
Virginia has won six straight over NC State, which is in its second season under head coach Kevin Keatts.