How has No. 7 Virginia gone from being a National Invitation Tournament team last season to one that’s fighting for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament?
Much of the improvement for the Cavaliers can be traced to 3-point shooting. After ranking 12th out of 15 teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference last year with 32.2 percent accuracy from deep, Virginia is No. 2 in the league with 37.6 percent marksmanship.
Surging Virginia (20-4, 12-3 ACC) will fire away again Saturday afternoon when struggling Notre Dame (10-16, 2-13) visits Charlottesville, Va.
The Cavaliers’ success from long-range has been fueled by its veteran backcourt trio. After hitting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc last year, Armaan Franklin has made 40.5 percent this year, helping him boost his scoring average from 11.1 to 12.8 points per game.
While Kihei Clark has increased his 3-point marksmanship from 34.6 percent to 40.0 percent and his scoring from 10.0 points to 11.7, Reece Beekman has hiked his 33.8 figure to 39.3 percent this season, along with an increase in scoring from 8.2 points to 9.7 points.
Another key player in Virginia’s success from the perimeter has been freshman reserve Isaac McKneely, who leads the team with his 43.0 percent accuracy.
With his teammates misfiring on Wednesday night at last-place Louisville, McKneely helped to rescue Virginia with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 10 minutes of a 61-58 win.
The sluggish Cavaliers trailed by nine late in the first half before going on a 14-point run that bridged intermission. Clark and Franklin finished with 14 points each.
“You got to grind those out,” Clark said. “It wasn’t the greatest atmosphere in here, but you’ve got to dig deep and just find a way to win. Those matter, too. Any road win in the ACC counts.”
Virginia will get a more welcoming and intense atmosphere when it returns home to face Notre Dame, which has lost four straight and 11 of its last 13.
The Irish have been a tough out, however, as their last three losses have come by a combined 12 points.
Notre Dame lost Tuesday night at Duke 68-64 despite getting a season-high 25 points from Dane Goodwin on 11-of-13 shooting from the floor.
But while Goodwin was thriving, the Irish’s top scorer and rebounder Nate Laszewski was struggling as he had as many fouls (five) as points (five). The Blue Devils limited the 6-foot-10 senior to just four shots.
After announcing last month that this would be his last season as coach at Notre Dame, Mike Brey is stopping to smell the roses as he visits ACC arenas for the last time.
“At shootaround today, I’m walking around. I’ve hung out in every nook and cranny in this building,” Brey said of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Brey’s final appearance at Duke also drew legendary Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, who returned for a game for the first time since retiring after last season.
“That was the calmest he’s ever been in the place,” Brey quipped.
Virginia has dominated the series with Notre Dame, winning 16 of 19 meetings, but the Irish got the best of the Cavaliers last year in South Bend, 69-65.
–Field Level Media