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Virginia men's basketball team seeks 2-0 ACC start against Wake Forest

Virginia men's basketball team seeks 2-0 ACC start against Wake Forest

Virginia Notre Dame Basketball

Virginia’s Kihei Clark moves the ball downcourt against Notre Dame on Dec. 30 in South Bend, Ind. Virginia won 66-57.

COVID-19 continues to impact the Virginia men’s basketball team’s season, but the Cavaliers press forward.

Head coach Tony Bennett expects the Wahoos to be at less than full strength Wednesday night against Wake Forest after a positive COVID-19 test by a staff member, but he believes his team will have enough players and coaches available to play the game.

As the Cavaliers battle the virus and aim to take the court safely, there’s still an emphasis on winning games.

“It wasn’t fun to get beat by San Francisco, nor get hammered by Gonzaga,” Bennett said.

Beating Notre Dame to end 2020 was much more enjoyable for Bennett’s group. Virginia beat the Fighting Irish in its ACC opener to improve to 5-2 on the season and 1-0 in conference action. The Cavaliers want to keep the momentum going Wednesday at 9 p.m.

They’re facing a Wake Forest team that has barely played this season.

Even as the calendar reads “January,” the Demon Deacons (3-1, 0-1 ACC) have played just four times. They were only able to play one game in December due to COVID-19, and the game came on Dec. 31. Wake Forest missed significant practice time due to the virus, and it’s trying to find chemistry in its first season under head coach Steve Forbes.

“I got to find the best way for our players to have a chance to win, and that’s been the hard part not having any nonconference [games],” Forbes said. “I don’t know until I see it.”

While the Demon Deacons technically had three nonconference games, it’s hard for Forbes to learn much from those games, including two that came all the way back in November and a Dec. 31 game against a Division II program.

Wake Forest lost its ACC opener Sunday to Georgia Tech. The Demon Deacons fell 70-54 on the road and made just three of their 20 shots from 3-point range.

Forbes knows his team will have its hands full Wednesday night against the Cavaliers, a program known for quality defense.

“It’s common knowledge they’re very well-coached, they’re disciplined,” Forbes said.

Virginia looked sharp against Notre Dame, holding the Fighting Irish to 25% 3-point shooting. Offensively, UVa tallied 14 assists while only turning the ball over five times. Kihei Clark didn’t commit a single turnover at the point guard spot.

“I’m not great with names, I know numbers a little bit better, but I know the Clark kid can really play,” Forbes said. “He makes the whole thing go.”

As UVa inches closer to hitting its stride, the Wahoos know they’re entering Wednesday’s game without their full assortment of personnel.

Bennett said the COVID-19 contact tracing concerns are mostly staff members, but his comments at his Monday press conference suggested some players could be out Wednesday as well. Virginia has enough players to compete, but contact tracing could certainly affect the depth of UVa’s staff and roster.

Even with the virus impacting the team, Bennett wants his team focused on the task at hand. The goal is to stay safe and win ACC games. Winning doesn’t take a back seat this season, even as teams navigate the virus.

The Cavaliers face another opportunity to pick up a win Wednesday, going up against an ACC team with limited game action and a new head coach.

“It’s absolutely about welfare and all that,” Bennett said, “but you got to go and you got to try to be as good as you can and compete to win of course.”

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