Virginia’s first two true road games this season couldn’t be any more different.
The Cavaliers (11-2, 3-0 ACC) opened the season in the Carrier Dome, taking down Syracuse 48-34 in an historic defensive effort. The Orange scored the fewest points they ever have in a home game at the Carrier Dome.
About a month later, Purdue steamrolled UVa, cruising to a 69-40 victory over Tony Bennett’s team in Mackey Arena.
Bennett and Virginia head north this week for a Tuesday game at Boston College. It’s only the team’s third true road game of the year.
Playing at Boston College isn’t quite as intimidating as the previous two venues, but Tuesday’s game is a good test for a relatively inexperienced team that appears to be hitting its stride at the right time.
“You go on the road, when you’re not as experienced, you gotta be ready,” Bennett said. “Conference play, you really have to be right. I’m glad that we at least have some experiences to draw from, and that’s what you certainly do. It’s really about a state of readiness and how you’re playing at that moment, how you prepared and how you’re playing when that ball is tipped.”
Luckily for Virginia, it looks like a different team than when it lost to Purdue. The Cavaliers are playing with more of an edge on both ends of the court.
Like it has for much of the season, UVa leads the nation in defensive efficiency.
With Braxton Key healthy and back in the lineup, Virginia looks even stronger defensively. Even since the South Carolina loss, Virginia looks improved on both ends.
“If you look at what’s happened since that loss, it’s not the same basketball team,” Boston College head coach Jim Christian said. “They’re playing with that swagger back, with that aggressiveness back. That’s what we’re expecting to see.”
Offensively, the Cavaliers have matched a season-high in scoring in consecutive games, tallying 65 points against both Navy and Virginia Tech. With Key looking healthier and Kihei Clark taking better care of the ball, the Cavaliers’ offense appears to be improving.
“They’re a much better offensive team, I think, than people give them credit for because their defense steals all the eyeballs, but the way that they play, especially the last couple games, you just see individual play is growing,” Christian said.
The numbers suggest the Cavaliers are starting to perform better offensively. In addition to reaching 65 points in consecutive games, the Cavaliers have shot over 40% from the field in four consecutive games after only hitting that threshold three times in the opening nine games.
With Clark and Key leading the way the past two games, the offense has found a rhythm. Players like Mamadi Diakite only help make the offense run even smoother.
There are weapons for the Cavaliers offensively, and finding consistency is critical as the season progresses.
While Boston College isn’t Duke or Florida State, the Eagles pose challenges. Boston College recently won four games in a row, including a road victory at Notre Dame.
“Jim’s always run very challenging, good stuff offensively,” Bennett said. “Strategically, it’s action, it’s movement. You’ve gotta be locked in.”
Most recently, however the Eagles were blown out 88-49 at Duke.
With star power forward Nik Popovic sidelined with an injury, the Eagles are shorthanded and beatable. Virginia embarks on its second ACC road trip of the season with an ideal opportunity to continue its offensive improvement and remain unbeaten in conference play.
As Virginia’s offense improves and the defense remains elite, Boston College faces a major challenge Tuesday night without its best offensive weapon.
“You cannot be an immature team, offensively especially, and beat them,” Christian said.
It’ll take a special effort from the Eagles to beat the Cavaliers. Just over a month after Purdue scorched the rims with a red-hot shooting performance, the Cavaliers hope to showcase their improved play in a road tilt.