After the Virginia men’s basketball team’s first 15-minute period in Saturday’s Blue-White Scrimmage, head coach Tony Bennett got on the microphone and spoke to the more than 5,000 fans at John Paul Jones Arena.
“We should be going into the practice gym and working on our defense,” he said.
Instead, the Cavaliers played three sudden-death games between live periods, and Bennett urged the crowd to cheer for the blue team (the backups) and boo the white team, which consisted of Virginia’s likely opening-day starting lineup.
“We’re going to treat the white team like it’s Miami,” said Bennett, referring to the football team’s opponent in Saturday’s prime time game at Scott Stadium. “Remember, all blue, no white.”
Redshirt sophomore Jay Huff drew a roar from the Cavalier faithful as he quickly ended the first sudden-death game. He followed a missed 3-pointer, collected his own rebound and brought the fans to life with a resounding slam dunk.
Freshman guard Kihei Clark put a slick move on a defender and finished with a layup to give the blue team a 2-1 advantage in the golden-goal period.
Virginia played two live periods (one 15 minutes, the other 10) and three five-minute sudden death games. Huff led all players with 15 points. Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter both finished with 14. Jerome also led the white team with five rebounds and six assists.
Here are three things we learned Saturday from the men’s scrimmage.
1. Key will be a big addition
Alabama transfer Braxton Key committed to the Cavaliers in May. He may have to sit a year due to NCAA transfer rules, but the Cavaliers have petitioned for a hardship waiver, and assistant coach Jason Williford told the Daily Progress earlier this month that they’re still awaiting the NCAA’s decision.
Key looked poised and athletic on Saturday. He didn’t hesitate on a 3-pointer that gave the blue team an early lead in the second live scrimmage period. He also found Huff on an in-bound pass in the opening period, and the big man finished with a dunk.
Key finished with six points, led all players with six rebounds and added three assists.
Jerome and Hunter were steady, as expected. Jerome hit an early 3 and finished a late fast break to score nine of his 14 points in the scrimmage’s first live period. Shots weren’t falling for star junior Kyle Guy, who went 1-for-4 from the floor and hit his only jumper of the day late in the second live period.
2. The Cavaliers can go big
Huff (7-1, 232) looked impressive on Saturday. He rattled the rim with a one-handed dunk early in the first live period. In the second, he knocked down two 3-pointers and scored five of the blue team’s first eight points. Defensively, he held his own physically against Jack Salt and blocked a floater by Jerome.
Salt (6-10, 250) still looks like he belongs in the WWE, but he showed some quickness to get to a long rebound and finished a steal with a layup to give the white team a 10-2 lead in the first live period. He also looked incredibly stiff on an easy layup and didn’t exactly have crisp form on his free throws (1-of-4 at the line).
Mamadi Diakite (6-9, 228) — a graduate of nearby Blue Ridge School — drained a mid-range jumper in the first live period to cut the white team’s lead to 15-10. With four minutes left in the opening period, he also picked up his fourth foul.
Diakite swapped jerseys and joined the white team for the second live period. He knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the blue team’s lead to 14-8. When the second live period went into overtime tied 15-15, Diakite went to the well again and hit another 3 to win it, 18-15.
Huff started last season hot but disappeared down the stretch. Diakite was inconsistent throughout the 2017-18 season. An effective three-man rotation in the paint will make a defensive-minded coach like Bennett very happy.
3. Freshmen show no fear
Two of Virginia’s three true freshmen saw extensive playing time on Saturday.
Clark ran point for the blue team and looked good doing it. In the second live period, he fed Huff with a no-look pass on the big man’s second 3-pointer. He also fed Huff on a layup in the opening period.
Clark looked quick and athletic, and he showed off an impressive first step on his game-winning drive and layup in the third sudden death game.
Fellow first-year Kody Stattmann knocked down his only 3-point attempt of the day thanks to a drive and dish from Key. It cut the white team’s lead to 26-20 in the opening period.
It’s hard to say how much playing time Clark and Stattmann will see, especially if Key is eligible. If he’s not redshirting, Clark coming off the bench does offer a nice change of pace to Virginia’s deliberate, methodical offense.