In front of an electric Wahoo crowd, the Virginia Cavaliers took an absolutely devastating defeat the hands of the Blue Devils, 65-61. With the loss, life gets tough for the ‘Hoos now as they keep pushing for the NCAA Tournament.
Duke’s just too talented
This team beating Duke in Cameron was a miracle. Beating this Blue Devil squad with this Virginia group twice would’ve been a story for the ages.
The ‘Hoos played a stellar game to stay competitive. They didn’t lose this game — they made Duke win it. And the Devils did. The combined talents of Trevor Keels, Jeremy Roach, Mark Williams, AJ Griffin, and Paolo Banchero was just a bit too much for Virginia and its pack-line defense.
For what it’s worth, the Wahoo defense put in another outstanding showing against the Blue Devils. Jayden Gardner gave Banchero fits all night long while Roach was the only Duke player who truly established a rhythm with 15 on the game. Of course, after first half struggles, Griffin came up big for Duke late with a pair of threes and a tough floater to build an unassailable lead.
But, as tends to happen in basketball and in close games, the talent won out tonight.
Kihei Clark has an ungodly performance
Win, loss, or tie this performance from Kihei Clark was unlike any we’ve seen from a Virginia basketball player in a long time. With 25 points on the night including 18 in the first half, Clark put in perhaps the most inspired outing of his career. The senior point guard had the entirety of JPJ on its feet multiple times throughout the night.
For a guy who has faced so much hate and has dealt with his fair share of adversity in four years, this game is a testament to his career as a Wahoo. Time and time again Clark comes up biggest when the lights are the brightest and he did again against the Blue Devils.
Jayden Gardner shuts down Paolo Banchero again
Despite the loss, one can’t but be impressed with Jayden Gardner’s continued lock-down defense. After holding Paolo Banchero to just nine points in Cameron Indoor, the ECU transfer held the five star to a mere eight on 2-13 shooting from the field. Banchero had nothing going against Gardner.
That showing from Gardner gave Virginia a chance, and considering how the senior has lost out on minutes this season because of his defensive struggles, it’s incredible to see that type of development. Gardner even switched onto AJ Griffin late in the game when the freshman started hitting shots and came up with another big stop.
Sure, it didn’t result in a Wahoo win. But Gardner’s defense will remain critical for this team down the stretch as the ‘Hoos make one final push for the tournament. And, there’s always the chance he comes back next season.
ACC Champs or bust?
With this loss, it’s hard to see the ‘Hoos building a regular season resume deserving of an NCAA Tournament bid. Crazier things have happened, but even with wins against Florida State and Louisville to close out the season, UVA likely doesn’t have the pedigree for March Madness.
That leaves the ACC Tournament. Depending on Virginia’s seeding in Brooklyn, the ‘Hoos would likely need to find a way to get another win against Duke if not all-out winning the conference tournament and sealing the automatic-bid.
With how up-and-down the entire ACC is and how Tony Bennett’s squad has come on of late, it’s not ridiculous to suggest that UVA could make a run. Obviously it’s not ideal, but hope isn’t lost after this defeat.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism