Virginia makes strong statement with rare win at Duke

DURHAM, N.C. – Kyle Guy knows he’ll hear it, whether on social media or even from the mainstream media. In fact, the win in arguably the most difficult venue in college basketball against a Duke team that could have a handful of future NBA players probably will trigger even more animosity.

But Guy could only smile after Virginia’s victory over the Blue Devils, and why not? He knows just about every team in the country would gladly switch places with the Cavaliers and their 20-1 record, 9-0 conference mark and a three-game lead in the ACC.

“An ugly win is a win,” Virginia’s sophomore guard said Saturday after the 65-63 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “We just beat a very, very talented team in a very hard environment.”

“It definitely gets kind of annoying,” he added about the criticism that Virginia’s style of play is not pleasing to the eye. “We play with a bigger chip on our shoulder trying to prove people wrong -- and prove the people who believe in us right.”

Virginia held Duke to just 22 first-half points, committed a total of five turnovers and showed it was mentally tougher than Duke when it fell behind in the second half only to come back and seal Virginia’s first victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 18 tries.

Virginia’s victory solidified that this team is certainly a Final Four contender for a group that went from a national afterthought before the season to one that entered the game as the second-ranked team in the country. For those who wrote the Cavaliers off after they lost leading scorer and point guard London Perrantes, who graduated, and three others to transfer in the offseason, it’s clear now -- if it wasn’t already -- that Tony Bennett’s program is built for sustainability.

Virginia isn’t going anywhere as long as Bennett is on the sidelines. Remember, this is the same guy who racked up a 69-33 mark in three years at Washington State before being hired in Charlottesville.

Over the last four-plus seasons, Bennett’s ACC mark is an astounding 65-16 -- and the Cavaliers look headed to a third ACC regular-season crown over that span. North Carolina’s Roy Williams is 57-24 with a pair of conference titles while Mike Krzyzewski is 56-25 and doesn’t have an ACC regular-season championship on his resume over that period of time.

But Bennett understands his critics aren’t going anywhere, whether it’s due to the branding of “ugly” basketball or the fact his program hasn’t reached the Final Four. He doesn’t just get it but seems completely unfazed by it.

“I think because we’ve won at a high level we’re the lightning rod for that,” Bennett said of the criticism.

The truth is Bennett is comfortable in his own skin and isn’t about to change because of any public outcry. He’ll continue to recruit players who fit his defensive-minded system, players who aren’t one-and-done types, and players who understand that the most important pillar in the program is humility.

“That’s the beauty of college basketball -- different styles and different systems,” Bennett said. “We have a system that works for us.”

And as for some magical answer as to why this team is aptly built to end the chants from the naysayers and advance to the Final Four?

“I don’t know,” Bennett said with a smile.

Bennett deflects all the praise to his players and even tried to say that Duke had an “off night.” The truth was that Virginia went into Cameron and earned the victory with poise, execution and defense.

“I’m thankful,” he said of finally winning at Cameron. “This is the gold standard.”

Virginia has become the gold standard over a two-month period each year, but this is a team that will need a little luck come March to get the haters off their back with a deeper NCAA tourney run. Sure, they have a trio of terrific guards in sophomores Guy and Ty Jerome, as well as senior Devon Hall. Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt are four-year guys who have made strides each season. Virginia has had really good players in the past, whether it’s NBA players Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson, and Perrantes.

None of those teams was 20-1, or 9-0 in the ACC.

“Let’s go, I’ll take that,” Bennett said. “I wouldn’t have suspected that, I really wouldn’t have. There wasn’t a lot of proven experience.”

Maybe not, but there is one guy who has been there for a while.


“I don’t know why the success has come,” Bennett said. “Sound system, very good players and a good staff. I’m smart enough to know it’s not my clever coaching.”

Maybe it’s not clever, but it’s his coaching.