Conference opponents typically know each other well. They know the schematic tendencies, roster makeups and in-game strategies of their frequent foes.
Notre Dame and Virginia know each other especially well this season, having just met roughly two weeks ago.
The two squads squared off at the end of 2020, with the Cavaliers edging the Fighting Irish 66-57 in South Bend. Wednesday, Mike Brey and Notre Dame travel to Charlottesville eager to correct what went wrong in the last meeting with Tony Bennett and the defending national champions.
“Well we’ve certainly had no answer for them,” said Brey, who is 1-11 against Bennett’s Virginia teams. “They’re really an unbelievable program.”
While answers to defeat UVa have eluded Brey’s teams, the Fighting Irish aren’t that far off from beating the Cavaliers. In the first meeting this season, Notre Dame found success in the post and only trailed by a point with about 10 minutes left.
UVa center Jay Huff and forward Justin McKoy both committed four fouls in the game, while Notre Dame forwards Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski scored effectively against the Cavaliers, combining for 47 of the team’s 57 points. Laszewski buried four shots from beyond the arc, showcasing a versatile game, while Durham scored 19 points with all of his made shots coming inside the arc.
Brey said the game was arguably the best of Durham’s ACC career.
“I’d love to see us throw it into the post and see if we can get into a rhythm offensively, which is hard to do against Virginia, but were in a pretty good rhythm in the second half of our game in South Bend,” Brey said.
Even with the poor win-loss record against UVa, Brey’s team does respectably well in Charlottesville.
Notre Dame fell to UVa 50-49 in overtime last season, struggling on the offensive end but still nearly defeating the Cavaliers in John Paul Jones Arena. The Fighting Irish have been within six points of UVa in each of their past three trips to Charlottesville, coming up just shy in all three contests.
For UVa, keeping Huff out of foul trouble will be critical.
The big man blocked five shots against Boston College, helping protect the rim. With Notre Dame’s post players finding success last time, the Cavaliers could use Huff on the floor whenever possible after he played just 24 minutes the first time the two teams met.
“I thought Jay was really good today,” Bennett said after the BC win. “They weren’t elite at stretching and shooting today with their bigs, so Jay could kind of, at times, really gap it up in the zone and then come across and help. His length bothered them and then when he played one-on-one, he was good.”
When on the floor, Huff offers tremendous offensive and defensive upside. With Kadin Shedrick coming off illness and potentially unavailable Wednesday and Francisco Caffaro barely playing this season, it helps to have Huff on the floor.
Offensively, UVa wants to lean on Kihei Clark yet again. The junior point guard has been fantastic to open ACC play, and he burned Notre Dame for 19 points in the first meeting. He also tallied five assists without a turnover.
“What we couldn’t do, though, was keep Clark out of the lane,” Brey said.
The Cavaliers were sound offensively, committing just a handful of turnovers in the victory.
It’s a winnable game for Virginia, but every conference game presents challenges. Notre Dame, despite its subpar record, will challenge UVa’s interior defense.
“They’re a talented offensive team, and they’ve been close in so many games,” Bennett said.
UVa needs to defend well to sweep the season series.