Sunday afternoon, the Virginia men’s basketball team will have the chance to extend its win streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 22 games, which would be its longest win streak in the building.
Coming off a dominating performance against St. Francis Brooklyn this past Tuesday, the No. 8 Cavaliers (2-0) are hoping for a repeat performance against Yale (1-0).
Virginia blew out the Terriers (0-2) with a score of 72-32. The Cavaliers pulled away early, with a 20-0 run over 10 minutes in the first half, and never looked back. The team entered the locker room at halftime with a 35-13 lead — the fewest first half points allowed by the Cavaliers since Harvard’s eight-point first half two seasons ago. Virginia’s defense held St. Francis Brooklyn’s shooting to 22.9 percent.
Despite the strong defensive effort, the Cavaliers went 0-10 behind the arc against St. Francis Brooklyn. This performance was a stark difference from the Cavaliers’ 50 percent three-point shooting effort in their season-opening win at UNC-Greensboro.
Offensively, bright spots came with the home debuts of redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite and redshirt junior forward Austin Nichols. After sitting out the first game against UNC-Greensboro, the two combined for 19 points and seven rebounds.
Virginia is deep at the forward position — in addition to Diakite and Nichols, junior Isaiah Wilkins, sophomore Jarred Reuter and sophomore Jack Salt all compete for time.
“Each of those players bring something different,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I want them to play really hard continuously. There is no reason for a group with that kind of depth to not play really hard and be really active.”
Bennett faces the challenge of having to split 80 minutes between the five forwards. Against the Terriers, playing time was relatively even as each of the five saw between 14 to 18 minutes.
Bennett was noncommittal when asked about his strategy for forward playing time going forward.
“It depends on how the officials are calling it,” Bennett said. “The matchups, what we need.”
Diakite is eager to embrace whatever role the team needs to win.
“Whatever the team needs from me, I’ll do it,” the Guinean native said. “If I have to not score and block everything, I’ll do that. If I have to grab rebounds, I’ll do that.”
Against Yale, the Cavaliers will need a strong rebounding effort from their frontcourt. The Bulldogs were second in the nation in rebounding margin last year (+10.9) and out-rebounded their most recent opponents, the University of Washington, 42-29.
Yale will be Virginia’s toughest opponent so far. Last year, the Bulldogs defended their Ivy League Title and won their first ever NCAA Tournament game in an upset against Baylor.
This year looks to be more difficult for Yale, as their current team lacks three first team All-Ivy players from last year’s roster— two lost to graduation and one, standout junior guard Makai Mason, lost to a potentially season-ending injury.
However, the Bulldogs pulled out a 98-90 win against the Huskies in their season opener. Yale held a double-digit lead at the half and was able to hold off Washington’s second half pushes to grab the victory.
Five Yale players scored in double digits. Freshman guard Miye Oni led the way with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists in his college debut. Senior forward Sam Downey also contributed 22 points on 10 of 16 shooting.
Despite the loss of Mason, senior guard Anthony Dallier and sophomore guard Alex Copeland both stepped up, combining for 26 points, 11 assists with only one turnover. Yale’s balanced scoring and ball movement mean the Cavaliers will need to continue the cohesive defensive effort and smooth rotation they have displayed so far.
“I just think we want every possession to be a battle for the other team, and so far they have embraced them,” Bennett said regarding Virginia’s defensive progress. “Yale will be a good indication with an improvement in competition in this next game.”
Offensively, Bennett thinks Virginia’s scoring this year will be spread out across different players from game to game.
“I think this is more of a balanced scoring team, and I like that,” Bennett said. “It is nice to have guys that when you need a bucket can go get one, but so far that is the way it has played out in our scrimmages.”
Senior guard London Perrantes was recently ranked the No. 2 college player by ESPN, but has remained relatively quiet on offense over the first two games.