By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – At the Joyce Center last month, Virginia scored the game’s first 12 points and rolled to an 82-55 victory over ACC rival Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
The rematch, at John Paul Jones Arena, featured considerably more drama. Fourth-ranked UVA led for most of the game, but three times in the final 13 minutes the Fighting Irish cut their deficit to a single point.
“I think we were embarrassed —all of us— how [the Cavaliers] kind of took our spirit from us at home,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “Again, they do that to a lot of people. We do know that. But we just kind of hung our head, and we’ve got high-character kids. I know they wanted to bounce back, and I thought they did today.”
In the end, the Wahoos made just enough plays to survive Saturday afternoon. Redshirt sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter dominated much of the second half, and junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome combined to go 6 for 6 from the line in the final 23 seconds, allowing Virginia to secure a 60-54 win.
“You never apologize for a win in a league like this,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said.
The Cavaliers (22-2, 10-2) remain tied with North Carolina (20-5, 10-2) for second place in the ACC. In their 69-61 victory over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Monday night, the ‘Hoos shot 55 percent from 3-point range and 53.3 percent overall.
Against Notre Dame (13-12, 3-9), which mixed zone with man-to-man defense, Virginia was much less efficient. The Cavaliers shot only 36.5 percent from the floor. From beyond the arc, they were 8 for 23.
“When you don’t shoot the ball particularly well — and we got some really good looks — that challenges you when people are packing in a zone or doing what Notre Dame did,” Bennett said. “And [the Irish] played so much better than when we played them the first time. They were scrappy and competitive, and they have ability guys that can make plays.”
All of which made this a valuable learning experience for his players, Bennett said. “OK, the shots are not going in. Are we going to be sound? Are we going to stay together and come up with big shots or find other ways [to win]? That’s part of maturing as a team.”
Several of the Irish had strong games, but the two best players on the floor Saturday wore UVA uniforms.
The 6-2 Guy went 4 for 4 from the line – all in the final 23 seconds – and finished with a game-high 22 points. He made four 3-pointers, the biggest of which extended Virginia’s lead to 50-44 with 6:40 to play.
“That really changed the whole complexion,” Brey said.
The 6-7, 225-pound Hunter scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half and led UVA with 10 rebounds. It was the third career double-double for the Philadelphia native, who also had two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
“Hunter just took over,” Brey said. “He’s really, really good.”
As a redshirt freshman in 2017-18, Hunter might not have been as assertive. But he made a conscious effort Saturday to be more aggressive, he said after the game. “I felt like I was floating a little bit, and I just got in the right spots and my teammates gave me the ball.”
They were happy to do so.
“He’s so good and talented at one-on-one basketball, and there’s not anybody in the country that can stop him,” Guy said. “So when he gets going, people start helping out more, and it gets me and Ty and other guys open shots.”
Hunter, who scored 19 points at Notre Dame last month, is “really hard to deal with whether it’s a man-to-man matchup or he’s catching it at the foul line [against the zone], because then it becomes man-to-man,” Brey said during his postgame press conference.
“You don’t want to help off their shooters. So now it’s your middle guy in the zone dealing with him, and he’s got a mid-range game, and then he’s physical enough to get to the bucket, and he gets LeBron calls.”
Brey laughed, as did his audience. “I’m sorry, did I say that? Anyway, he’s a hard matchup for anybody in this league, and certainly for us.”
Five minutes into the second half, Hunter passed to 6-9 redshirt junior Mamadi Diakite for a dunk that pushed Virginia’s lead to 39-30. The Irish rallied, though, and a trey by guard T.J. Gibbs made it 39-38 with 12:16 remaining.
The game stayed close until the Cavaliers used a 9-0 run to take a 54-44 lead with 4:55 to play. Again the Irish battled back. Virginia, which had no turnovers in the first 20 minutes, had eight in the second half. Its final one led to a Nate Laszewski layup that cut UVA’s lead to 54-52 with 34.5 seconds left.
“A couple of them were [self-inflicted],” Bennett said of the turnovers. “A couple of them were good plays on [Notre Dame’s part].”
With 23.6 seconds left, Guy made both ends of a one-and-one, stretching Virginia’s lead to 56-52. After a defensive breakdown led to a dunk by Notre Dame big man John Mooney (11 points, 15 rebounds), Guy was fouled again.
That put the Cavaliers in the double bonus, and Guy hit both free throws. After a Notre Dame miss at the other end, Jerome was fouled. Overall he had a quiet afternoon, but Jerome went 2 for 2 from the line with two seconds left to close out the scoring.
“Those were big free throws that we made,” Bennett said.
THEY SAID IT: With the victory, UVA improved its all-time record against Notre Dame to 13-2. Among the postgame comments:
* Guy on the leaping grab he made of a pass from freshman Kihei Clark to prevent a turnover late in the game: “I looked like Antonio Brown on that catch.”
* Guy on his free throws: “I know that I have confidence in myself and so does this program. So I never doubted that I was going to make them.”
* Bennett on playing Guy all 40 minutes: “Sometimes against a zone, you’re not moving quite as much, and he’s a well-conditioned athlete, and there were a lot of timeouts. We used a timeout to rest, and I just felt like that was important for him to be out there and stretch the zone.”
* Bennett on Hunter’s performance: “I thought he made some really good plays in the high post and low post. [The Irish] were mixing in some zone and some man-to-man, and we were trying to get the ball moving, stretch the zone and then get him — or anybody, really — touches in the high post … He’s very good in that high post, whether it’s a one-dribble pullup or a hard drive, and we needed that.”
* Brey on Guy and Jerome: “I use them as examples for my young guards to watch those two guys, because they’re such big-time winners. They know who they are, and they play within themselves. Utmost respect for them. They’re assassins and winners. They’ve had great careers.”
COMMONWEALTH CLASH, PART II: Next up for Virginia is a second straight appearance on ESPN’s Big Monday showcase. At 7 p.m., UVA (22-2, 10-2) meets No. 22 Virginia Tech (20-5, 9-4) at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg.
The Hokies won 70-64 at Pitt on Saturday.
This will be the second game between UVA and Tech in five weeks. When they met Jan. 15 at JPJ, the ‘Hoos rolled to an 81-59 victory. Hunter scored 21 points, Guy had 15 and Jerome 14 for UVA, which shot 54.2 percent from 3-point range and 58.5 percent overall.
Guy said the Hokies “play like a different team when they’re at home. We’re expecting a hostile environment, and we’re excited for it.”
The Cavaliers have won 11 of their past 14 games with the Hokies. A win Monday night would earn a point for UVA in the annual Commonwealth Clash competition.