Following back-to-back losses to the Miami Hurricanes and Houston Cougars, the Virginia Cavaliers got a much needed win over the Albany Great Danes. With the 66-46 victory, we’ve got five takeaways.
UVA starts slow without Reece Beekman
The news that Reece Beekman would be out for this game had immediate impact on the court for Virginia in the first half as the Wahoos struggled to hit shots offensively and couldn’t always stay in front of a few quick Albany guards. With the score sitting at 24-24 as 3:40 remained on the clock in the first half, the air was definitively out of JPJ’s sails. The game appeared set to be an ugly one where the ‘Hoos would simply have to hit more shots than a severely outmatched Great Dane squad.
Fortunately for UVA, a momentum-shifting 9-0 run to close the first half and then an even bigger run to open the second built what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. Still, though, the fact that the offense looked so stagnant early against such an opponent is slightly concerning.
Absolutely, rust after an eight day holiday break is to be expected and forgivable while the lack of Beekman is additionally somewhat responsible. But those flaws exposed against Miami and (to a lesser extent) Houston are very much still there.
For some context, Albany let up 75 points and 1.034 points per possession to Division III program Union New York. While some meaningless minutes late in the game lessened UVA’s final point total and efficiency, the ‘Hoos scored 66 points and 1.100 PPP in comparison. Not great. That said, the second half was more like it and probably provides evidence as to why this point shouldn’t be harped on too much.
Kihei Clark is a maestro
Yes, it was versus Albany. But Kihei Clark did exactly what he needed to for Virginia to win this game. With eight points, 10 assists, four rebounds, two steals, and only two turnovers on 3-4 shooting (1-1 from three), Clark played a complete game and sparked the Cavaliers’ run to close the first half with his back to back backcourt steals and transition layups.
Offensively, Clark balanced being aggressive and hunting his own shot with keeping the offense moving and creating space for guys like Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin. The reliance on him offensively without Beekman on the floor is serious, but his poise when he’s expected to make things happen was impressive. Tellingly, this was Clark’s record-breaking 139th game in a Virginia uniform which is now first all-time for the program. The pairing of him and Beekman in the backcourt has become perhaps the team’s biggest strength and his role in that shouldn’t be overshadowed by Beekman’s rise this season.
Sitting Reece Beekman was a good call
Speaking of, not playing Beekman in this game was undoubtedly a smart decision. Letting him rest his hurt hamstring for this game should prove valuable with Virginia now heading into ACC play for real. He now hasn’t played in a game in eight days and will have been able to rest for almost eleven days when UVA tips off against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve.
We’ve seen just how different the Cavaliers are with Beekman fully healthy versus limited or out. The offense is a completely different animal with him as an aggressive slasher and playmaker than it is without him while the perimeter defense is similarly worse off without him as his pesky self. If UVA can nip his injury issues in the bud now and ensure he’s fully healthy for the most important part of the season, the odds of the ‘Hoos winning the ACC and/or nabbing a top seed increase exponentially.
UVA’s wings adjust to find rhythm by slashing
With the ‘Hoos shooting 1-7 from deep in the first half, there was an obvious emphasis placed on attacking the paint off the bounce to generate easier points particularly in the second half. Armaan Franklin and Isaac McKneely each did relatively well at getting to the rim and forcing Albany to jump with them. Each had a few nice finishes which displayed their potential to be less one-dimensional on that side of the floor.
Again, doing so against Albany is admittedly less impressive than versus, say, Houston. But it’s still encouraging that UVA’s typically complementary offensive players are expanding their repertoires some against such an inferior opponent. Franklin eventually did get going from deep as his 20 points (7-13 from the field, 3-6 from three) led the way for the Wahoos. Getting similar, higher volume production from him in conference play would be great for an offense that needs more aggression.
Shooting woes continue
Granted, even with Franklin shooting 3-6 from deep, Virginia still shot 5-18 (27.8%) from beyond the arc on the night while also going just 11-20 (55%) from the free throw line. That’s been an unfortunate theme for the ‘Hoos of late. While McKneely flashed off the dribble, he was still 0-3 from three and is now 31.7% on the season while Vander Plas went 1-4 and is the exact same 31.7% on the year.
Those two are going to have to continue to take and, ideally, make shots. But the continued struggles to find consistency shooting the ball are limiting the Wahoo offense. Throw in too many missed free throws and this type of efficiency would’ve been pounced on by an ACC-caliber team. Rust is rust, but the trend of missing shots is becoming more than that and Reece Beekman’s return will only do so much. The Cavaliers simply have to make more of their shots moving forward.