A key lineup change, the improved health of its best player and an explosive wild card playing an increased role have No. 7 Virginia in peak form.
The Cavaliers, in fact, are perhaps a superior version of the team that won its first eight games and rose to a No. 2 rank.
After losing three of five games when Reece Beekman was hampered by ankle and hamstring injuries, retooled Virginia (15-3, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) has reeled off five straight wins entering Saturday’s contest against Boston College (10-11, 4-6) in Charlottesville, Va.
The Cavaliers have a new look with 6-foot-8 Ben Vander Plas starting at center over 6-11 shot-blocker Kadin Shedrick. Vander Plas, a grad transfer from Ohio University who has passing ability and 3-point range, facilitates the flow and spacing of the offense.
At the other end of the floor, 6-8 freshman Ryan Dunn has become a disruptive force both inside and on the perimeter with his unique combination of length and quickness. In the last three games off the bench, Dunn has collected 15 rebounds and seven blocks.
“He’s really dialed into what this team needs and his role,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of Dunn. “His mobility and athleticism, to get on the glass, block a shot and guard multiple positions has been helpful.”
Virginia enters following one of its best wins this year, a 76-67 decision last Saturday at improved Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were on a four-game winning streak and had put together 15 straight home wins dating to last February.
But the Cavaliers quieted a raucous crowd with a turnover-free first half, building a 19-point lead by hitting nine straight shots — including seven from beyond the arc. Armaan Franklin led the assault with his first career double-double, tallying 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Boston College has won two straight, including a 75-65 come-from-behind victory Wednesday at home over mistake-prone Louisville.
The Eagles were down by 12 in the first half and by six at the break, but rallied behind the inside-out tandem of Quinten Post (22 points) and Makai Ashton-Langford (21 points) and a defense that forced 19 turnovers.
Jaeden Zachary (15 points, seven assists) played a big role as well, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and another jumper in the final 10 minutes to help the Eagles pull away.
“We’ve been down pretty much all the years we’ve been here,” Ashton-Langford said. “We’ve been trying to change the culture. It starts here. We can’t look back. We’ve got to take full advantage of this moment.”
The 7-foot Post, who missed the Eagles’ first 13 games with a foot injury, is on a tear. In Boston College’s previous game at Notre Dame, Post scored a career-high 29 points and matched his career best with 14 rebounds in an 84-72 win on Jan. 21.
Boston College has lost nine of the last 10 meetings with Virginia. In Charlottesville, Bennett and the Cavaliers have beaten the Eagles seven straight times.
“They test everything you do,” Boston College coach Earl Grant said. “They try to do a two-way grind on you. They try to make you chase and guard on defense and then on offense you have to work to get good shots.”
–Field Level Media