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Three takeaways from Virginia's 54-52 win over Virginia Tech

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(visitor) Virginia College Basketall

Virginia center Francisco Caffaro, right, celebrates during the second half of the Cavaliers’ win over Virginia Tech on Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena.

The back-and-forth Commonwealth Clash featured 13 lead changes, and in the end, host Virginia outlasted rival Virginia Tech, 54-52, at John Paul Jones Arena late Wednesday night.

For the Cavaliers, 7-foot-1 center Francisco Caffaro’s career night kept the Hoos in it during the first half and then powered them to victory in the final 20 minutes. His 16 points, nine rebounds and 31 minutes were all career bests.

And for the entire bout, he battled Hokies standout Keve Aluma in the post. Aluma had a game-high 22 points, but the bruising defense Caffaro showcased against Aluma took a toll on Aluma and forced him to earn every bucket he had.

Here are three takeaways from UVa’s (10-6, 4-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) win over Virginia Tech (8-7, 0-4 ACC).

Caffaro contributes in big way

Three minutes into Wednesday’s contest, UVa was forced to play without starting forward Kadin Shedrick.

He picked up his first foul on the defensive end of the floor only 16 seconds into action and by the 17-minute mark, Shedrick had to check out after being called for another foul on the offensive end.

Shedrick entered the contest with the Hokies as the Cavs’ second-leading rebounder, tallying 5.3 boards per game. His replacement, the big man Caffaro, came into Wednesday averaging 2.9 rebounds per game.

“The mindset is always the same,” Caffaro said of his early entry. “Going in, you’ve got to play hard. You’ve got to do your job and that was pretty much it. And you know how Coach [Tony Bennett] is. Once someone gets two fouls, they don’t play as much in the first half. So, I was obviously ready and I’m always ready, so today was more minutes and I took advantage of it.”

Caffaro eclipsed his season average for rebounds and points in his first five minutes on the floor against Virginia Tech. Caffaro tallied five points and three rebounds — including two on the offensive glass — during that initial span. He also had a possession on defense in which he guarded Aluma in the post so tenaciously that Aluma had to kick the ball out to the perimeter. Aluma’s pass came as the shot clock dwindled and Caffaro’s brute defense ultimately led to a shot-clock violation on the visitors. That was an indication of what Caffaro would provide the rest of the night.

Caffaro finished the opening half with six points and six rebounds.

“We use the word intentional,” Bennett said. “But [Caffaro] has come in and getting extra time and he’s purposeful.”

Bennett said he’s seen growth in Caffaro’s game. Caffaro had eight points in UVa’s win at Clemson last week.

“He plays hard and it’s new to him,” Bennett said. “He has not played a lot and now he’s getting to play more and we need our interiors — Kadin, [Caffaro], Jayden [Gardner] — and I know it’s not sexy or appealing, but you’ve got to be as good of a screener and rebounder and defender, and then play off your opportunity. And as your game improves, then there will be opportunity for scoring and I’ve just challenged [Caffaro] to serve the team in that role.”

Shedrick checked back in with 7:09 left before halftime, and did a nice job avoiding a third foul before heading into the locker room. He logged five minutes of action after reentry and grabbed four rebounds.

Beekman becoming more aggressive

In the early moments of the second half, Hoos guard Reece Beekman displayed a glimpse of his evolving aggressiveness on the offensive end.

With space to work with, Beekman took off from the baseline but had to beat Aluma at the rim in order to score. Beekman didn’t hesitate, and with two hands, he dunked over Aluma sending the Cavaliers’ faithful into one of their loudest outbursts of the night.

His driving layup with 11:02 to go put UVa ahead 40-38.

Beekman had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field on top of his five assists and two steals. He entered Wednesday as the ACC’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio.

For Beekman, Wednesday marked just the fourth time he’s taken at least 10 shots from the field in a game. Three of those four outings have come in the last five games — a sure sign he’s feeling more confident in his offensive output.

“Reece has really taken a step in the right direction,” Bennett said.

After UVa’s loss at North Carolina this past Saturday, Beekman said he thought he was starting to shoot the ball better than he was earlier in the campaign.

Scoring off turnovers boosts Cavs

To beat Virginia Tech, UVa tallied 14 points off of 12 Hokies turnovers.

And Tech coach Mike Young said those points hurt his club.

“That’s a bit surprising,” he said, “12 turnovers in a low-possession game. They had 50 shots and we had 50 shots in such a low-possession game, but to kick it 12 times, that comes back to bite you.”

One of Beekman’s steals led to an easy, fast-break dunk for him.

“That daggone Beekman, he knocks one down every game,” Young said. “And then he gets to the other end with it. Tonight, was no exception.”

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