Virginia Beat: Highlight of the Year?

Highlight of the Year? UVA had such a good week of basketball this past week, I could be talking about either their blowout of Clemson or their big win at Maryland.  Maryland it is, for the sake of clarification.  Also for the sake of clarification, let’s hope winning at Maryland was not the highlight of the entire year.  But up to this point?  Sure.

Because the Cavaliers are a college basketball team, they sometimes struggle on the road.  College basketball teams do that.  UVA’s only ACC losses this year are on the road, so simply being in College Park for their rivalry game against the Terps on Sunday was the first hurdle.  Virginia was expected to be without center Mike Tobey and forward Darion Atkins (Atkins would play, but briefly and largely ineffectively), and Maryland is well known this year for being one of the biggest teams in the country.  It wasn’t an ideal matchup.

Instead of having their faces beat in by the much larger and deeper Terrapins, though, UVA decided to play maybe its best game of the season.  And they did so while playing Maryland’s game.  A big part of the win was forcing Maryland to play the Hoos’ game, but they also proved they could play the way Maryland wanted them to and still win.  UVA became the first team this season to outrebound the Terps.  And when Maryland wanted to press and play an up-tempo game, UVA said – OK, lets play up-tempo, and knocked down three-pointers to finish off press breaks.  Not every instance of Maryland’s pressure was handled well, of course – it’s a part of the game where UVA still has some work to do.  But UVA made them pay for it often enough.

Credit for the win can’t go solely to the Hoos’ ability to handle what Maryland threw at them, though.  Equally important: What UVA threw at the Terps.  With Akil Mitchell’s foul trouble leaving Tony Bennett without a single real post option, Bennett tried some all-shooter combinations, and even with Mitchell on the floor it was a small-ball lineup.  At times, UVA had 6’6” forward Justin Anderson guarding 7’1” center Alex Len.  UVA found so much success with this that Maryland coach Mark Turgeon decided to go small himself, thereby nullifying the height advantage Maryland brought to the table.  The main problem with that is that UVA’s backcourt is both bigger and better than Maryland’s.

We mustn’t overlook the individual efforts of certain players, and Anderson’s storyline is easily the most compelling.  There isn’t a UVA or Maryland fan anywhere that doesn’t remember that Anderson was, at one time, a Maryland commitment, and the Terrapin fans gave him the standard treatment given to players who decommit in favor of a rival.  Anderson quieted the crowd with a 17-point, 9-rebound performance that was augmented by outstanding defense on a player who had more than half a foot of height on him.  Joe Harris’s 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting may also have been a factor in the win, as well as Paul Jesperson’s 4-for-4 perfection from three-point-land.

The win launches the 17-6, 7-3 Cavs into the second half of the ACC season in style and for now keeps them firmly entrenched in third place in the ACC standings.  It’s the first game of a rivalry run that sees the Hoos host Virginia Tech on Tuesday and then visit North Carolina this weekend.  Perhaps most importantly, it was one of the best things they could’ve done to set themselves up for the ACC tournament and to make their case for the NCAA committee.  UVA fans will be forgiven, though, if they overlook the big picture and bask in a thoroughly well-played win over a hated rival.

Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.

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