UVA guts out an ugly win
For a game that started at 9:49 PM, this was a game that had many eyes drearily shutting at times. The play early in the first half seemed synonymous with a bricklaying contest as neither team could muster much of anything offensively.
In fact, on the game, the two teams combined to shoot 38.7% from the field. Louisville finished 5-22 from beyond the arc while also committing 12 turnovers while Virginia did not make a three all game and turned it over on 10 occasions.
But, by the final buzzer, the ‘Hoos had made just enough plays. Kihei Clark and Jayden Gardner in particular came up big offensively. Gardner finished with 17 points on 7-12 shooting and was consistent both in the paint and from the midrange. Meanwhile, Clark scored 15 on 7-14 shooting as he propelled the offense for multiple stretches.
UVA was also incredibly solid defensively. Louisville did miss shots and played even more sloppily than Virginia. But Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark, and Kadin Shedrick were particularly stout against the Cardinals. Shedrick had three blocks including a number of critical ones down the stretch while Clark had two steals and Beekman had one of his own and forced a turnover with 28 seconds to essentially seal the win for the Wahoos.
Reece Beekman comes up clutch again
Speaking of Beekman, the sophomore point guard came up clutch once more. His eight points and nine assists were evidence of the job he did initiating the Wahoo offense throughout the game. But no play was bigger than his drive and finish with 40 seconds left to put Virginia up by four and into the driver’s seat.
That play combined with the forced travel by Noah Locke with 28 seconds left were the epitome of what makes Beekman such a fantastic, well-rounded player.
Of course, his turnover with 20 seconds left following the poor decision to try and thread the needle to Jayden Gardner instead of dribbling out the clock displayed how he is still young and still learning.
This type of play won’t hold up for the rest of the week
Even with the late play that pushed Virginia over the top, that performance was not one worthy of an ACC Champion. For the ‘Hoos to compete with and beat teams of the quality of North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Duke, they’ll have to be far more efficient offensively.
A guy like Armaan Franklin — 0 points on 0-8 shooting in 24 minutes tonight — needs to provide additional scoring and the squad as a whole has to come out of the gates far more awake than it did tonight. With another 9:30 PM start tomorrow, hopefully Virginia can get up to speed quicker against the Tar Heels than they did tonight against the Cardinals.
Lack of rest doesn’t bode well
On the night, arguably UVA’s three best players — Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, and Jayden Gardner — spent just seven combined minutes sitting on the bench. Virginia has utilized a very limited rotation this season and Tony Bennett does like to cut it down when he reaches postseason play.
But, considering how the ‘Hoos have to win four games in four days to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, that lack of rest could come back to bite them. Playing North Carolina — who is yet to play this week — at 9:30 PM tomorrow is not a particularly appealing prospect.
Of course, it’s critical to focus on winning each individual game and keeping an eye on potential future games is a recipe for disaster. But if there was ever a time when UVA could benefit from a deeper bench or more regular season playing time for the young guys, it’s now.