Despite a near second half collapse, the Virginia Cavaliers still managed to pull out a big victory against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons by the final score of 76-67. With the win, UVA moves to 15-3 on the season and 7-2 in the ACC, now one of only three teams in the conference with two or fewer in-conference losses along with the 6-2 Pittsburgh Panthers and the 7-1 Clemson Tigers.
Beekman and Clark valiantly play through foul trouble
It doesn’t take rocket science to identify that, when a team’s two most important players are in foul trouble, things tend to go poorly. But the second half collapse from the Wahoos as Clark and Beekman edged further and further into foul trouble was evidence of how necessary each is to the team’s success on either end of the floor.
Granted, were it not for some pretty quick whistles from the refs, this game would have gone quite differently. It seemed as though all Tyree Appleby or Cameron Hildreth had to do to draw a foul was drive to the basket and be touched. They deserve some credit for being aggressive and being tough to guard, but woof did it feel like they got the benefit of the doubt on a boatload of calls. At times it went both ways with UVA benefitting from some iffy fouls as well, but the majority seemed to go to Wake — who were admittedly more focused at touching the paint in this game.
That aside, I think it’s pretty obvious that Beekman and Clark are this team’s two most important players (with Armaan Franklin a close third). Both of them being in foul trouble kept this one much closer than it should’ve been for much longer than it should’ve been.
Fortunately, Bennett made the right call and trusted his veteran guards to play with four fouls each. When Clark and Beekman subbed back into the game with 7:36 remaining, the score was 57-56, Wake Forest. UVA proceeded to go on a 20-10 run through the end of the game to pull out the win. I doubt this type of situation will occur again with each in such major foul trouble. Still, it’s good to know that, even when the game is being called tightly, those two can focus in and clutch up on either end of the floor despite being one whistle away from fouling out.
Jayden Gardner is struggling to consistently fit on this team
In twenty minutes today, Jayden Gardner was -22 as he scored five points on 2-7 shooting with two rebounds. A few of his midrange jumpers unluckily bounced out, but the fact that Virginia was a whopping 31 points better in the twenty minutes he was off the floor than he was on it points to how he simply doesn’t fit what the team wants to do right now.
Don’t get me wrong, Gardner is a very good college basketball player. He has a lot going for him on offense, but he hasn’t been able to find his groove this season especially since UVA adjusted to heavily relying on its triangle offense. His midrange game simply isn’t efficient enough (he’s 39.4% on the year) considering how well the Cavaliers shoot the ball from behind the arc. He also doesn’t have a truly reliable post game, largely because he’s undersized in the ACC.
I’m not saying Gardner shouldn’t have a role on this team or that he won’t come up big at times this season. But his contributions are hard to quantify when he’s not hitting shots from the midrange or able to dominate a mismatch.
Ryan Dunn deserves to start
With that said about Gardner, it feels like it’s time to make the switch in the starting lineup with Ryan Dunn. As Ben Vander Plas has been fantastic of late as UVA’s small ball five, Dunn has been probably just as impressive defensively. While Gardner was -22 on the outing, Dunn was tied for a team high of +13 in 30 minutes. His impact defensively is huge as he can handle guarding a number of different types of players while he’s also a very good rebounder with six defensive boards and two offensive rebounds versus the Demon Deacons.
On offense, Dunn might not be much of a high volume guy, but he can make shots when called upon. His five points on three shots (including one big three in the second half) were very efficient and, if the ‘Hoos are able to play him on the wing of the triangle offense and force defenses to respect him from the perimeter, he doesn’t hurt the offense while being a major help on the other end.
After playing 17 minutes versus FSU, 24 against Virginia Tech, and now 30 versus Wake Forest, Dunn’s role has been steadily increasing. Don’t be surprised if that culminates in his first career start next Saturday against Boston College.
Three-point shooting carries the offense
Despite missing their first eight shots of the game and going 0-4 from deep to start, the Cavaliers hit a ridiculous 15 three-pointers against Wake Forest, shooting 44.1% on 34 attempts. Armaan Franklin led the way as he scored 25 points on 9-21 shooting from the floor and 5-13 shooting from deep.
Meanwhile, Isaac McKneely stayed hot with 11 points on 3-6 shooting from three with BVP and Clark going 2-4, Beekman finishing 2-5, and Dunn going 1-2. Those 15 makes are the program’s most in a game since January 16th, 2021 when Sam Hauser and company beat Clemson on the road.
While the team struggled at times today when the shots weren’t falling to find other ways to score, the ‘Hoos made enough shots so that it didn’t matter. Reece Beekman’s off-the-dribble triple with 2:40 left to put UVA up by eight and then Armaan Franklin’s three with 1:18 remaining to stretch the lead to 10 were each incredibly clutch.
Unsurprisingly, small ball + triangle keeps working
I wrote about extensively in a film breakdown which went up this morning, but the blending of UVA’s small ball lineups with Ben Vander Plas at the five along with the team’s heavy usage of its triangle offense has been incredibly successful for Tony Bennett’s offense. Able to survive defensively with BVP at center and especially when Dunn plays the four, Virginia has won four games by relying on these two critical adjustments made by the coaching staff.
We’ll see if future opponents can find an answer for this new style for the Wahoos. But, for now, it’s been incredibly effective and should continue to be what UVA depends on.