Irish face ACC-leading UVA
Matthew DeFranks | Friday, February 21, 2014
Play on the East Coast, return to South Bend in the wee hours, go to class, go to practice, head back east.
For the third time in seven days, Notre Dame will pack its bags and travel to an ACC opponent when it plays at No. 14 Virginia on Saturday.
“This is by far the most travel I’ve done in a week timespan,” senior guard Eric Atkins said. “This has definitely been different for me and pretty hard.”Virginia (22-5, 13-1 ACC) sits atop the conference standings after previously undefeated Syracuse fell to Boston College on Wednesday. The Cavaliers have won 10 consecutive games, including a 68-53 win over the Irish (14-13, 5-9) on Jan. 28.
“This is the one team that really thumped us and a lot of respect with how they’re playing and confidence they’re playing with,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I think it will be a heck of a barometer for us since last time,”
In that game, the Cavaliers jumped out to a 32-12 lead 15:27 into the game and never looked back as they cruised past the Irish.
Notre Dame finished the game with 20 turnovers, leading to 29 Virginia points.
“The game when they played us here was one of those games when you could say we weren’t in it as much as every other single game we lost,” junior forward Pat Connaughton said.
Virginia will bring in the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing just 55.5 points per game. The Cavaliers have held their last four opponents to fewer than 60 points.
“Everybody is always in position,” Atkins said of Virginia’s defense. “It seems like they never get out of position defensively. They all trust each other very well. It was a great defensive display while I was on the court, which was bad.”
Brey said Virginia’s length on the perimeter, especially 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Justin Anderson, caused problems for the Irish.
“They’re going to guard the heck out of you,” Brey said.
In the first game, Virginia continually double-teamed Irish graduate student center Garrick Sherman in the post, forcing both the ball out of his hands and turnovers.
Atkins said the Cavaliers’ defensive success is partially mental.
“I think it’s mental just in the fact that people overthink their defense a little bit,” Atkins said. “They doubled Sherman in that game a lot. I think we thought about that too much. We thought about attacking that too many different ways when we could just kick it out and move the ball really quickly.”
Even in a league with two top-10 teams, Brey, Atkins and Connaughton all said Virginia may be the best team in the ACC.
“They very well could be,” Connaughton said. “They’re in the argument. They run their stuff very well, they’re a very good team and have a lot of good pieces. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Brey, however, was more blunt.
“I don’t think anybody’s better,” he said. “Matter of fact, I think they’re the best, quite frankly, and we’ve played them all.”
During their 71-64 loss at Miami on Wednesday night, the Irish may have gained something more valuable: solid play from freshman guard Demetrius Jackson.
Jackson scored a career-high 17 points in 27 minutes after missing two games for academic reasons. He added five assists and was 3-for-5 from the three-point line.
“It was very encouraging for him for the rest of the year,” Atkins said. “I’m excited for him because we definitely needed it. Hopefully he can keep that going forward.”
Notre Dame and Virginia tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.