Virginia pulls away with a second half Cavalanche
With 1:50 remaining in the first half of this game, the Wahoos were leading the Yellow Jackets by a score of 27-25 as the UVA offense had gone cold while the GT offense was scheming up enough open looks to stay in the game. But three triples in the final 1:49 of the period put Virginia up 36-25 at the break and provided some breathing room despite a relatively poor performance. The Kihei Clark three with 29 seconds left and then McKneely’s before the halftime buzzer were particularly beneficiary momentum boosters.
The second half started even better than the first ended as a 16-0 run over the first 5:38 put Virginia up 52-25 and essentially put the game away. The UVA defense was smothering over those two stretches as the Cavaliers imposed their will on an inferior Georgia Tech team. Such an explosion of production with a balance of scoring from various players and the simultaneous stuffing of Georgia Tech’s offense provided the dominant showing that UVA needed to reaffirm its place as one of the top teams in the conference. GT isn’t a good team, but taking care of business against a fairly tough in-conference opponent on the road shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Additionally, the ‘Hoos continue to be a second half team this season. Big second half runs against opponents including Baylor, Illinois, Michigan, and Florida State were all evidence of effective halftime adjustments while the success at the end of the first period that has carried over into the second in the two most recent victories against Albany and Georgia Tech display how the Cavaliers can flip a switch. Ideally, such dominance would be more effectively spread out across 40 minutes, but basketball is a game of runs so being able to get hot and lockdown at the same time is an obvious strength for this group.
UVA defense wins by being disruptive
What broke this game open for Virginia was undoubtedly its disruption defensively and Georgia Tech’s sloppiness offensively. UVA scored 30 points off of the Yellow Jackets’ 23 turnovers as the Wahoos had 14 steals and 14 points in transition. The effective aggressive on-ball defense from the Virginia backcourt was particularly impressive as Armaan Franklin registered five steals, Kihei Clark had three, and Reece Beekman had a pair.
Georgia Tech was clearly outmatched in this game. The Yellow Jackets simply didn’t have the horses to stay with the Wahoos. But the UVA defense’s proficiency for forcing opponents to make live-ball mistakes and then capitalize on them on the other end is valuable. In fact, GT entered today with the seventh lowest turnover rate in the country per KenPom. So, while Josh Pastner’s group may be limited in other aspects of the game, that’s a strength for the team that UVA completely flipped in this win.
The pressure which Clark, Beekman, and Franklin put on opposing guards shouldn’t be understated and pairing that with the PackLine defense which can limit the ill-effects of such aggressiveness make up what can take this version of the Virginia defense to the next level.
The threes fall against Georgia Tech’s zone
While some late misses slightly lowered Virginia’s final numbers, the team’s 10-22 (45.5%) shooting from beyond the three-point arc was a welcome relief after significant struggles in the last number of weeks. And, considering that Georgia Tech also entered this afternoon’s contest allowing opponents to shoot just 27.1% from deep (11th in the country), such success shouldn’t be discounted.
Four different players hit multiple triples as Isaac McKneely finished 3-5, Armaan Franklin shot 3-9, and both Clark and Beekman were 2-3. Georgia Tech’s matchup 2-3 zone forces teams to make outside shots, and UVA did just that. Making ten long balls emphasized how good this offense can be when hitting shots because of the team’s strength as passers with guards who can create shots for others. McKneely going 3-5 was particularly good to see as the freshman flamethrower has largely struggled to hit shots this season. In fact, this was his best shooting performance since going 4-6 against Monmouth on November 11th.
Hopefully for the ‘Hoos, McKneely and Franklin will continue to tickle the twine as their success rate as wing shooters is an absolute x-factor for the offense’s success. Clark and Beekman each going two for three continues to confirm their success as knockdown catch-and-shoot guys on the perimeter who, because of their roles as initiators, won’t take as many deep balls as their backcourt teammates.
Kihei Clark keeps on cooking
Speaking of Clark, he’s been on a bit of a tear of late. Reece Beekman’s various injuries have forced the fifth year senior to do more offensively, and he’s been altogether very efficient. He led the way for Virginia today with 15 points on 6-9 shooting, eight assists, three steals, and three turnovers. The California native was fantastic against the GT zone as he carved up Josh Pastner’s defense, finding McKneely, Franklin, and Beekman on the perimeter while also attacking the rim himself and finishing well through contact. He dumped the ball down low when the opportunity presented itself and he also made good decisions in transition.
While Beekman is back and should continue to become more prominent in the offense as he continues to recover, Clark has only further cemented himself as one of Virginia’s best and most important players. His 11.5 PPG is a career high while his 5.8 APG comes with a career-low 16.8% turnover rate. In fact, his 36.9% assist rate is 11th nationally and 4th in the ACC.
Virginia’s interior defense was sloppy at times
It’ll be covered up by the eighteen-point margin of victory (which would’ve been larger if Josh Pastner had ever pulled his starters out of the game), but UVA’s interior defense was a tad too sloppy against the Yellow Jackets, especially in the first half. Centers Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro each got lost in GT’s ball screen actions a number of times while there were moments of confusion for Ben Vander Plas and Jayden Gardner as well.
Fortunately, Georgia Tech doesn’t have the type of bigs who can genuinely exploit such struggles. But both the occasional over-aggressiveness from Shedrick and the rotational breakdowns versus ball screens are things to watch for when UVA tips off against superior competition in the coming weeks and months.