Following a season-defining win over the Duke Blue Devils, the Virginia Cavaliers took care of business at home against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to extend their winning streak to four games. As UVA hopes to continue building its tournament resume, there’s plenty to conclude from this contest for Tony Bennett’s squad moving forward.
UVA ekes out a win despite second half struggles
After a first half where the ‘Hoos seemed to have complete control of this contest, offensive sloppiness and some made shots by Josh Pastner’s group meant that the game was close heading into the final minutes. Fortunately, a few big buckets from Jayden Gardner and a huge Kihei Clark triple with 2:26 remaining put the game away.
But, after establishing a 13-point lead by the end of the first half, letting a sub-par opponent like Georgia Tech back into the game is a frustrating development as this team seemed to have truly hit its stride.
Taking care of and pulling away from the Yellow Jackets in the second half would’ve been an exclamation point on what has been an impressive four-game stretch.
Nevertheless, a win is a win and games like this in conference play are never going to be pretty. Hopefully the ‘Hoos can learn from the second half showing while maintaining the rhythm they’ve developed over the last two weeks.
Win-now rotation strategy is working
In this final stretch of ACC play Tony Bennett has solidified his rotation of veterans while also incorporating preferred walk-on Malchi Poindexter for guard depth. As the ‘Hoos were struggling to find consistency for the majority of this season, the lack of opportunities for the high potential young guns including Igor Milicic Jr., Taine Murray, and Carson McCorkle was eyebrow-raising considering the veteran group wasn’t getting results.
Yet, that puzzlement with Tony Bennett’s rotational decision-making is being put to bed by the recent successes. With four straight wins and a chance to make noise on the NCAA Tournament bubble and near the top of the ACC standings, this group has clearly found its groove.
Granted, it’s a shame that that group of young guys hasn’t been able to earn playing time especially since Bennett has expanded the rotation to include Poindexter. That said, the recent results speak for themselves and Tony Bennett’s commitment to winning in the short term is paying off.
UVA defense is back where it needs to be
While the Wahoo offense has absolutely played its role in Virginia’s issues and inconsistencies this season, the stark reality is that the pack-line defense hasn’t nearly been up to expectation. Yet, recently, that trend has shifted back in the right direction.
Of course, Georgia Tech is by no means an offensive powerhouse. But — in the end —Virginia won this game on the defensive side of the ball. Holding the Yellow Jackets to .898 points per possession is evidence of another stellar defensive outing. There are absolutely tougher tests to come, but this is another step in the right direction.
Jayden Gardner has stepped up big time recently
As conference play has progressed Jayden Gardner has grown more and more comfortable as a bucket-getter on the interior. In fact, in his last five games the East Carolina transfer is averaging 18.8 points per game as he’s hitting from the midrange and found ways to leverage his strength and athleticism while still playing within himself.
He struggled at times in the second half this evening, but still finished with 26 points on 10-19 shooting.
Defensively, Gardner has improved leaps and bounds since earlier in the season when he often would lose out on minutes because of his inability to fit into the pack-line defense.
Yet, of late, not only has he stopped being a detriment, but he’s become a critical cog. His performance against Paolo Banchero at Duke was evidence of that as was his presence and hustle against Georgia Tech. In fact, Gardner actually recorded three blocks and a steal against the Yellow Jackets.
Gardner’s emergence defensively has been emblematic of this team’s growth as a whole and how it’ll need to continue to play to keep this momentum going.