The Virginia Cavaliers moved on in the bracket after a roller-coaster affair against 16-seed Gardner-Webb on Friday. The Running Bulldogs came out and punched the Hoos in the mouth, getting out to a 14-point lead by the 7:30 mark of the first half. Virginia would proceed to trim that deficit to six points by the halftime break and take the lead for good at the 16:16 mark of the second half.
There were a lot of things to like and not like about Virginia’s first round game, so here are three takeaways from the game:
The demons were real, but so was the exorcism
There was a moment, nay, several moments, where you could practically see the ghosts of UMBC in the eyes of the Virginia players. After a timeout in the first half where the Hoos were trailing by double-digits, CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson gave a synopsis of what the Virginia huddle was like. Wolfson said Jack Salt was in the huddle, pointing to his head and telling the team their problems were all mental.
From that point on, the Hoos looked different. The body language was improved, they made better choices with the basketball, and cut the 14-point deficit to six by the break (thanks to a HUGE three from Kihei Clark).
In the second half, Virginia re-committed to getting the ball inside (something that resulted in a lot of ambitious turnovers in the first half), and Hunter and Diakite got rolling. When Virginia took the lead 39-38 and then added to it with a three from Jerome, you could tell the Hoos would cruise to the finish line.
Hello, De’Andre Hunter
We all know Dre is outstanding. He hit the 20-point mark nine times this season, and is solid in just about all facets of his game. After red-shirting his first season in Charlottesville, Hunter famously missed last season’s NCAA tournament with his injury.
It may have taken about 20 minutes to get into gear, but Hunter’s much awaited debut did not disappoint. He finished with 23 points, 17 of which came in the second half as the Hoos outscored Gardner-Webb 41-20. He got dunks, threes, and jumpers. He had two blocks and six rebounds in the game, and shot 9-for-16 from the floor.
An aggressive Hunter is a must-have going forward for the Hoos. Virginia can’t afford to have him disappear on the offensive end of the court if they hope to break through the Final Four wall. Friday’s game should be an encouraging sign.
Welcome back, Mamadi and Ty
Speaking of encouraging signs, my goodness it was nice to see good, confident Mamadi Diakite again. He finished with 17 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Diakite shot 8-for-10 from the floor and pulled down nine rebounds (four offensive boards).
After no-showing the ACC tournament, it was a welcome sight to see Diakite making layups, grabbing rebounds, and bringing life to the offense.
Same goes for Ty Jerome. After confirming that he was, in fact, recovering from a virus during the ACC tournament, Jerome was much more his usual self against Gardner-Webb as he scored 13 points and dished six assists to go with three rebounds and three steals. His four turnovers were out of character, but a lot of things in the first 10 minutes of the game were “out of character” for the Hoos.
For Virginia to continue moving on in the tournament, both of those guys have to be sharp. It was good to see them ball out again.