Following Saturday’s loss to No. 1 Gonzaga, Virginia coach Tony Bennett challenged his team not to let the lopsided defeat lead to a downward spiral.
“Will we grow from it? Will we stay unified and come back ready the next time?” Bennett asked on Saturday.
The Cavaliers were ready the next time.
No. 23 Virginia bounced back from its loss to the top-ranked Bulldogs with a 66-57 road victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
Kihei Clark scored 19 points, including a critical 3-point play late in the game, and dished out five assists to lead the Cavaliers (5-2, 1-0 ACC). More importantly, Clark did not record a turnover against the Irish. He had six giveaways in the Gonzaga loss.
“Being a point guard, you got to take care of the ball,” Clark said. “So I’m just trying to be conscious and just be more sound as Coach Bennett calls it.”
Jay Huff added 15 points despite battling foul trouble for most of the game, while Sam Hauser finished with a double-double, tallying 13 points and 10 rebounds. Hauser struggled shooting at times Wednesday, finishing 5-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range, but he hit two critical 3-pointers in the second half that kept the Cavaliers ahead.
“Obviously I’ve missed some open shots and it’s frustrating but you just got to stick with it and just shoot like the next one is going to go down and that is kind of what my mentality was and it went down and came at a crucial time in the game,” Hauser said. “I’m going to stay with it, I know they’re going to fall. Every shot felt good tonight but [I] just got to stay after it.”
Nate Laszewski led Notre Dame with 28 points and six rebounds. Juwan Durham added 19 points and five rebounds for the Fighting Irish.
“Laszewski has really improved,” Bennett said. “He was a load. Durham and Laszewski hurt us”
After giving up 98 points to Gonzaga, Virginia was much more solid defensively on Wednesday, limiting Notre Dame (3-5, 0-2 ACC) to 57 points and 27 percent shooting from 3-point range.
“Better,” Bennett said when asked about the defensive performance. “We’ve got a ways to go but [we got] a few shot clock violations. There was more effort.”
Though pleased with Wednesday’s improved effort, Bennett said the Cavaliers are still a work in progress defensively.
“Better, but miles to go before we sleep,” Bennett said with a wry smile.
Virginia never trailed, but the game was competitive throughout.
The Cavaliers started strong, jumping out to an 11-4 lead behind six points from Huff, a bucket from Trey Murphy and a 3-pointer from Clark. The Fighting Irish answered with a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 13-11, starting and ebb and flow of runs by the teams for the remainder of the first half, which ended with Virginia taking a 30-24 lead into intermission.
The Wahoos opened the second half with a quick 5-0 run to push the lead to 11, but again the Irish answered, going on a 5-0 run of their own to get the lead back to six.
Notre Dame continued to threaten to take the lead throughout the half, but Virginia had an answer each time its lead narrowed to a possession. The Irish used a 7-2 run to pull within one with 8:26 to go, but Hauser nailed a big 3-pointer to push the lead to two possessions.
A Laszewski bucket pulled Notre Dame within one possession with 5:48 to go, but UVa countered with another big 3-pointer, this one coming from Murphy, to extend the cushion to six.
Clark delivered the crucial blow to the Irish’s comeback hopes with a 3-point play with 2:50 remaining that gave Virginia a 60-53 lead. Clark then put the finishing touches on the win with a nice assist to Huff for a dunk with a little more than a minute to go to give Virginia a 10-point lead.
“[We got] some key baskets from Kihei and Sam,” Bennett said. “I thought we made enough good offensive plays. We took advantage. And then enough key stops.”
The Cavaliers return to action on Saturday when they host Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena. The game will tip off at 4 p.m. and air on ACC Network.