Tony Bennett cracked jokes, asking reporters whose phone case had the picture of “beautiful” twins.
“Are those Virginia Tech hats they’re wearing?” Bennett questioned with a wry smile.
“No, they’re turkey hats,” the reporter responded. “Thanksgiving!”
“Oh, OK,” Bennett laughed, approving of the headgear.
Later, Bennett jokingly called Ty Jerome a “bum,” saying without Jerome the Cavaliers can finally run in transition this season. It’s about as relaxed and content as Bennett has looked in any postgame press conference this season.
Virginia’s head coach appeared giddy following his team’s 65-39 demolition of Virginia Tech on Saturday.
He had good reason to be.
Through three ACC games, the Cavaliers (11-2, 3-0 ACC) are holding their conference opponents to an average of 40 points per game.
The Hokies, who only mustered up 39 points against the Cavaliers, dropped 92 points to go with their 20 assists and two turnovers in their previous game, a win over Maryland Eastern Shore. The quality of opponent isn’t nearly the same, but the Hokies typically score efficiently this season.
That wasn’t the case Saturday against the Wahoos.
“When you kick the thing around and play sloppy basketball, it drives me insane,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said. “Eight turnovers at the half, 13 for the game. The numbers are all messed up, six assists and 13 turnovers. That’s not Virginia Tech numbers certainly. It would be less than fair not to credit Virginia and their preparedness and their team’s activity on the defensive end.”
Young’s sentiments echoed that of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams after their losses to Virginia. The coaches held their heads in their hands and wondered what just happened after facing this version of the Pack Line defense.
The defense has been excellent for UVa, and its offense may finally be turning a corner.
After tallying three games with a shooting percentage above 40% from the floor in its first nine games, Virginia has accomplished the feat in each of its past four games. The Cavaliers tied their season-high in points with 65 against the Hokies and in the prior game against Navy. For the first time since the home-opening win against a weak James Madison squad, the Cavaliers scored at least 30 points in both halves in the triumph over the Hokies.
The offense looks better.
Shooters like Tomas Woldetensae are heating up. The Italian JUCO transfer is 9-of-18 from beyond the arc in his past five games after shooting 3-of-21 from deep to start his Virginia career.
Braxton Key added 18 points against Virginia Tech, and he’s 15-of-23 from the floor in his last two outings. He’s attacking the basket and scoring from the post, as is Mamadi Diakite.
“I mean it goes to show these past couple games, we really need him,” Virginia point guard Kihei Clark said of Key. “He just brings a level of toughness, shot-making ability, rebounds, he’s just an all-around player for us, and we really need him to be at the top of his game.”
Expect Key’s resurgence to continue, as he’s feeling much more comfortable with his left wrist injury. He switched to a splint with padding after playing with a cast in recent outings.
“With the cast there was like a little space, kind of like a ball, so catching, layups and stuff … everything was difficult with my left [hand],” Key said after the Virginia Tech win. “Today I felt more comfortable. Less padding, less tape, it felt great.”
With players like Clark and Woldetensae hitting a few outside shots, the Cavaliers’ offense looks competent.
Add in contributions from Diakite and Jay Huff in the post, and the Cavaliers’ offense shows the potential of an effective offensive attack.
If Clark, who scored 18 points to go with six assists and four turnovers against the Hokies, can limit turnovers as the Cavaliers’ floor general, the offense can become a threat rather than a liability. With a defense playing historically well, that becomes a scary proposition for ACC foes.
Virginia’s defense is elite. The offense is showing signs of life.
If the offense picks up its game and the defense continues performing as the most efficient defense in the nation, expect plenty more of gleeful Tony Bennett in postgame press conferences.