Cavaliers rolling into Cameron for showdown with Duke

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The unbeaten Virginia men's basketball team is rolling into Saturday's long-awaited matchup with Duke in Durham.

UVA is coming its first top-10 showdown of the week, following Tuesday's 81-59 win at home against No. 9 Virginia Tech. With that victory, the Cavaliers improved to 16-0 on the season, and alone atop the ACC standings at 4-0. All four of Virginia's conference wins have come by double digits.

For the season, the Wahoos have won their first 16 games by an average of 22.6 points per game. If UVA can maintain that margin of victory for the full season, it would be by far the largest average of Tony Bennett's 10 teams in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers' largest average margin of victory under Bennett was 14.0 points, by the 2014-15 team that won Bennett's second ACC regular season title.

That's just one example of how statistically, this has been arguably Bennett's best team at UVA -- at least through 16 games. Bennett's best offensive team was the 2015-16 group that reached the Sweet 16, led by ACC player of the year Malcolm Brogdon. That team averaged 71.0 points per game, and shot 49.1 percent from the floor and 40.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line -- all the best of Bennett's first nine UVA seasons.

This year's team enters the weekend averaging 74.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting from the floor, and 40.8 percent on 3-pointers. Defensively, the Cavaliers are again the toughest team to score against in the country, giving up just 51.7 points per game. That average would rank second for a Bennett-coached UVA team for a full season behind the 2014-15 team, which gave up 51.4 points per game.

"We've played well. We've shot it well and played well and defended pretty solid against our two home ACC games. And your reward for that is you get to go to Duke next," Bennett said after Tuesday's win. "The league will test you, but obviously I like how we've withstood so far."

Duke will test UVA's defense on Saturday. The Blue Devils are averaging 90.3 points per game, good for third nationally as of Friday. Freshmen RJ Barrett (23.4 ppg) and Zion Williamson (21.2 ppg) are the top two scorers in the ACC. Another first-year forward, Cam Reddish, is third on the team in scoring at 13.4 ppg.

Saturday's game is also a rare showdown of the top-ranked team by the Associated Press (Duke) against the No. 1 team in the coaches poll (UVA) -- just the fourth time that has happened in NCAA history, and the first time in the ACC. The Wahoos are ranked fourth in the AP poll; the Blue Devils are second in the coaches poll.

Those rankings came out Monday afternoon, hours before Duke lost at home to Syracuse 95-91 in overtime. The Blue Devils were without Reddish for that game, and lost freshman point guard Tre Jones to a shoulder injury just five minutes in. Reddish will be back against the Wahoos on Saturday; Jones is reportedly unlikely to play, but hasn't been ruled out.

"They're so talented. I know, they were really, I just caught the tail end of their game last night, they were really banged up," Bennett said. "Obviously we know how good they are, and same kind of deal. You just play the possessions and battle, and look forward to the challenge."

Duke last lost back-to-back home games in January of 2016, when Notre Dame and Syracuse both won at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a three-day span. UVA hasn't won at Cameron since... last year's 65-63 victory, which snapped the program's 17-game losing streak at Duke.

"Last year was definitely an awesome win, but it's a whole new team," said UVA junior guard Ty Jerome, who scored 13 points last year, including a win-clinching 3-pointer with 37.6 seconds to play.

"We know how crazy the environment is, so last year is completely out the window. It's a fresh new game," Jerome said. "Winning there last year, we understand how crazy Cameron is. We understand how loud they get when they go on runs. And we know how talented this year's team is. So we know what we're in for, we know it's going to be a real battle, but we'll be ready for it."



 
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