In their regular season finale, the Virginia Cavaliers topped the Louisville Cardinals by 15 points, 75-60. With the win, UVA finishes the year 23-6 overall and 15-5 in the ACC. As such, we have five takeaways.
UVA takes care of business to win Tony Bennett’s 6th ACC Regular Season Title
Playing against a four-win Louisville team to clinch a share of the ACC Regular Season Title was never going to be the most climactic way to close out the regular season. But, after UVA suffered a pair of discouraging road losses and was close to falling to both Louisville and Notre Dame just a couple weeks ago, beating the Cardinals in relatively dominant fashion was another solid shot of confidence for the Wahoos ahead of the postseason.
On a larger scale, Virginia winning yet another ACC Title is further confirmation of the Cavaliers as the modern standard for the ACC. Sure, Duke and North Carolina have had more recent tournament success, but UVA is still the most recent National Champion for the conference and has now outright won or shared the ACC Regular Season Championship six times in the last ten seasons. That’s significant, sustained success in one of the country’s best conferences and something that, before today, only Duke and North Carolina had done.
The postseason will determine much of how this season is viewed and, if UVA gets knocked out of the NCAA Tournament early again that narrative about Virginia in tournament play will arise again. Whether that’s warranted or not, this title and it being Tony Bennett’s sixth still represent the absurd consistency that this program has established. Bennett is now the fourth coach in ACC history to do win six in ten seasons joining Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roy Williams. All hail CTB.
Sides continues to work well for the UVA offense
For the second consecutive game, UVA used its sides offense for the majority of possessions and found really solid production as a result. As we detailed in depth in this film breakdown from earlier today, this set is working well for the ‘Hoos right now as it suits the Virginia backcourt well and has maintained better possession-by-possession flow.
The three starting guards — Beekman, Clark, and Franklin — combined for a whopping 22 assists to just four turnovers. Beekman’s 11 assists, zero turnover day was particularly impressive as he scored just five points (2-4 from the field, 1-1 from three) but still sliced and diced the Louisville defense.
Jayden Gardner also deserves credit for a more efficient game today than on Tuesday against Clemson. Despite being overcome with emotion while being recognized for Senior Day before the game, Gardner scored 16 points on 8-12 shooting and was great from the midrange. He did really well exploiting mismatches when the Cardinals switched guards onto him after setting pin-downs for his teammates
Better opponents will have more impactful answers for defending UVA’s sides offense, but the fluidity that the ‘Hoos have played with was great to see. In fact, this was Virginia’s best offensive performance adjusted for opponent since the Virginia Tech win back on January 18th.
Virginia’s shooting is still a bit off
The offense generated good looks as UVA made six dunks and ten layups with a final 58% success rate from the field. But the three-point shooting was still a bit off against the Cardinals with Virginia finishing 6-18 (33.3%) from beyond the arc. While they both absolutely played well beyond their performance from deep, Kihei Clark (1-5) and Isaac McKneely (1-4) each struggled from three this afternoon.
UVA hasn’t shot above 33.3% from deep in a single game since January 30th. From the eye test, it seems like just a matter of time before that happens and before shots start falling more consistently and the ACC Tournament could be a good opportunity to test that in single game elimination competition. But it’s absolutely something to keep an eye on with postseason competition ahead.
Ryan Dunn and Francisco Caffaro impress once again
With Ben Vander Plas obviously playing through pain and Kadin Shedrick essentially out of the rotation, Ryan Dunn and Francisco Caffaro had stellar performances for the second consecutive game. Flashing his offensive development as the season has progressed, Dunn scored nine points on 4-5 shooting from the floor and has now scored 19 on just eight shots in the last two games.
Dunn’s one midrange jumper in the middle of the Louisville zone was De’Andre Hunter-esque and his finishing ability around the rim has been a really nice complementary element especially as the offense has shifted back to playing mover blocker. Of course, he always brings it defensively and on the boards, but it’s particularly encouraging this type of production as a scorer.
Per usual, Caffaro bruised his way around in the paint as he was stout on defense and slammed home a couple dunks on offense to provide some nice life, especially from the crowd’s reactions to his positive play on senior day. With Kadin Shedrick not playing for a second consecutive game, getting those minutes from Caffaro was a really nice boost.
Thank you, Kihei
Yeah, he might have scored only six points and made just one field goal in his final game in Charlottesville, but this performance from Kihei Clark was evident of a tremendous career for UVA’s 5’10” lead guard. Being the most prominent defender in holding El Ellis to 3-12 shooting from the field, Clark maintained his persona as a defensive pest while still emphasizing making plays for others offensively with his six assists.
Beyond this individual game, Clark has now won his third ACC Regular Season Title and has firmly cemented himself as one of the program’s greats. There’s absolutely more to come and probably even more to prove, but the winningest player in UVA and ACC history closed out his career in style as only he could. He deserves a tremendous amount of gratitude from all the UVA faithful for his time in Charlottesville.
There will never be another Kihei Clark. A player with the heart of a lion, he’s carved out his spot amongst the best all-time that absolutely cannot be questioned, no matter how tall he is.