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Virginia defeats Pittsburgh 59-56 in road matchup

Sophomore guard Kihei Clark caught fire, scoring 17 points and adding three assists

<p>Sophomore guard Kihei Clark found his groove Saturday, scoring 17 points while picking up five rebounds and adding three assists.</p>

Sophomore guard Kihei Clark found his groove Saturday, scoring 17 points while picking up five rebounds and adding three assists.

Coming off a season-high win against Boston College Wednesday, Virginia downed Pittsburgh 59-56 Saturday afternoon at Petersen Event Center. While the Panthers (15-13, 6-11 ACC) overcame a 14-point deficit late in the second half, they were unable to take back the lead in the final seconds of regulation. Sophomore guard Kihei Clark paced the Cavaliers (19-7, 11-5 ACC) with 17 points, while senior forward Mamadi Diakite, junior guard Tomas Woldetensae and senior guard Braxton Key recorded 10 points apiece in the contest. 

Virginia built an early 7-2 advantage against Pittsburgh as Woldetensae, Key and junior forward Jay Huff added to the score. Quick to bounce back, the Panthers regained the lead after sophomore guard Xavier Johnson sank his first three to give Pittsburgh a 12-9 edge. Clark guided the Cavaliers back, leading the team with seven points, including six unanswered points as the first half neared the 10-minute mark.

Turnovers, which have largely defined Virginia’s offense this season, continued to be a problem against the Panthers. Pittsburgh scored eight points on six Cavalier turnovers in the first 12 minutes of play. While Virginia also struggled to convert from behind the arc, just 1-for-5 in the same span, the Cavaliers narrowly led 20-17 with 7:34 to go. 

Virginia’s luck from three-point range began to shift as Morsell and Woldetensae drained back-to-back shots from behind the arc. But the Panthers were locked in to respond, tying the score 26-26 with 2:27 remaining.

In the final minutes of the first half, Key contributed a layup and Clark jumped into double digits with a three-pointer. Pittsburgh freshman forward Justin Champagnie responded with a three-pointer of his own, but the Cavaliers held onto their lead 31-29 as the half came to a close. 

Clark continued to stay hot coming out of the break, scoring consecutively with a three-pointer and layup to give Virginia a 38-31 lead at 16:10. Diakite followed suit with back-to-back field goals to put the Cavaliers ahead by 11 points as Pittsburgh entered a scoring drought. 

Then Virginia completely took control of the game, building its lead to 44-33 with 12:10 to play. On the other end, sophomore guard Au’Diese Toney, Johnson and Champagnie worked to keep the Panthers from falling out of the game. Meanwhile, Diakite joined Clark in double digits in points, fueling the Cavalier effort in the second half. 

Woldetensae drained his second three-pointer of the game to give Virginia a 51-37 lead at 6:24. However, as the game entered its final four minutes, Pittsburgh proved that it wasn’t ready to give up, jumping on an 8-2 run to cut the deficit to seven points at 2:54. 

From there, the Panthers regained control of the game. With under two minutes to go, Toney and Johnson combined to get Pittsburgh within two points of the Cavaliers at 58-56. The Panthers had a good three-point look with five seconds on the clock, but Key secured the rebound and was sent to the line to shoot a pair of free throws. Just 1-for-2 from the line, it was a one possession game at 59-56, but Pittsburgh was unable to even the score as the clock wound down. 

With the victory, Virginia has won seven of its last eight matchups, turning its season around in an attempt to secure a spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers travel to face in-state rival Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum Wednesday at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2. 

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