Following a bummer of a defeat at the hands of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, the Virginia Cavaliers bounced back to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers 66-61. With the win, there’s plenty to consider for the Wahoos before they head down to North Carolina to take on N.C. State.
A win is a win
This game wasn’t particularly pretty. Considering this team’s tendencies and its likely ceiling this season, this is the type of game that the ‘Hoos absolutely have to win. UVA is going to continue to experience scoring droughts which limit its ceiling. But, as long as the ‘Hoos can counter those with stretches of play with runs similar to what characterized much of the second half for the Wahoo offense.
In fact this game was largely a tale of two haves. For the first fifteen minutes or so of the game Virginia was scoring just .708 points per possession. By halftime that number was impressively up to .967. By the time the final buzzer sounded the ‘Hoos scored 1.138 points per possessions as the offense found its groove.
Beating Pitt isn’t much of an accomplishment. But — at this point — Virginia merely needs to string wins together. No flip is going to be switched that will dramatically turn this season around. But — bit by bit — this team can claw its way closer to the NCAA Tournament.
Reece Beekman needs to continue to be aggressive
The one thing still holding Reece Beekman back from being an incredibly complete player has been his shooting. That, plus what appears to be a lacking willingness to be the aggressor offensively has stunted have stunted his offensive production in his time at Virginia.
Yet, against the Panthers, Beekman was in his element as he put up 19 points on 8-11 shooting including 3-5 from three to go along with eight assists, two blocks, a steal, and just two turnovers. In fact, he essentially sealed the win for Virginia with a drive and find to Armaan Franklin who converted the layup to put UVA up by five with 26 seconds remaining.
When Beekman has hit a few jump shots early in games this season he’s been more aggressive and has carried the Virginia offense. When he is willing to try to score for himself and then looking to distribute rather than the opposite he’s a dangerous player and can raise this team’s offensive ceiling as a true point guard.
Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick come alive
After the big men struggled to finish against Wake Forest, both Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick responded against Pitt. Combining for 26 points on 11-15 shooting. Shedrick exploded in the second half and hit a number of short jumpers to beat Pitt’s zone as he scored 8 straight points for Virginia to open the half.
Following a few games of poor offensive showings against bigger players, Gardner also found his offensive groove. He was effective in the midrange again and got to the line for easy points that the UVA offense needed desperately.
If there’s one thing that has defined UVA’s season so far it’s been inconsistency offensively. Game-to-game there tend to be different guys stepping up and leading the offense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing except when that variability results in those prolonged scoring droughts.
Without that one guy to rely on to provide easy offense when it’s needed or a bench unit that is built to provide scoring, this Virginia team’s offensive ruts are intensified. Fortunately, against Pitt, enough guys stepped up to seal the deal. But — moving forward — there needs to be a more dependable answer when the offense is struggling.
Interior defense is exploited
Similar to how Armando Bacot bullied the ‘Hoos on the inside, John Hugley had himself a night against the Virginia interior defense scoring 23 points and getting to the line nine times. His dominance resulted in both Francisco Caffaro and Shedrick eventually fouling out and forced Jayden Gardner to play the small ball five down the stretch.
It is a tad concerning how UVA’s interior defense has been exploited like that as much as it has lately. On paper Shedrick and Caffaro shouldn’t be getting bullied on the block and the pack-line defense means they’re rarely on an island against opponents.
Considering the interior talent that the ACC boasts, Virginia will need to strengthen its last line of defense in order to go on a late season run.