After both teams started the season strong, the paths of No. 6 Virginia and unranked Virginia Tech diverged in January.
While the Hokies were losing seven in a row, the Cavaliers pieced together a seven-game winning streak which remains intact.
Saturday afternoon at Blacksburg, Va., when Virginia (17-3, 9-2 ACC) tries to complete a regular season sweep of its rival, Virginia Tech (13-9, 3-8) attempts to recapture its early-season form.
Both teams are coming off road games that reflected their January fortunes. On Monday night, Virginia got clutch play in the final minute from Jayden Gardner and outlasted Syracuse 67-62.
Then on Tuesday night, Virginia Tech was undone by Nigel Pack, who scored all 17 of his points in the final eight minutes as No. 23 Miami rallied to a 92-83 win.
Before Pack’s assault, the Hokies had begun to turn their season around with wins at home over Duke and Syracuse. Then against Miami, they had a late five-point lead before Pack hit six straight shots, including five from beyond the arc.
“Is it fatal? The clock is ticking,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said. “We’ve got a big one at home on Saturday against Virginia. We’ve got nine more of these teeth-gnashers. We’ve gotta get on the stick here.”
In falling to 0-7 in road games, the Hokies got 20 points each from guards Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor. They combined to hit 12 of 20 shots and all 11 of their free throws as Virginia Tech shot 56.9 percent from the floor.
“We’ve gotta be tougher, better than that on the road,” Young said.
Virginia has had no such road woes as three of the wins in its current seven-game streak have come away from Charlottesville.
Gardner (17 points, eight rebounds) made it possible at Syracuse as he drew a charge with a minute left, then hit a pull-up jumper and followed with two rebounds in the final 23 seconds. The win completed a regular season sweep of the Orange.
“Not every game is going to be a blowout,” Gardner said. “This one was a grind-it-out game and it’s good to find different ways to win, so when we have this experience later in March, then we know what to do with it.”
Kihei Clark also played a big role, scoring 12 points and dishing 10 assists. With the Cavaliers up by a point, Clark made a clutch 3-pointer with 3:06 left. Less than a minute later, Clark tacked on two free throws.
“Guys had to step up, make a big shot, a hustle play here and there,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s what it takes. This is just how it is. You’re getting everybody’s best shot. It’s the second time through (the league).”
When Virginia beat Virginia Tech 78-68 on Jan. 18, Clark scored 20 points and dealt five assists.
The game was a showcase for both team’s balance and execution. All five starters for both teams scored in double figures. While Virginia Tech had eight turnovers, Virginia had just five.
“That was a hard-fought game. Virginia Tech is good,” Bennett said. “That again is our league. Forget about records.”
–Field Level Media