Growing pains haven't kept Clark from helping 'Hoos

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- There have been some growing pains for Kihei Clark in his first college season, especially once second-ranked Virginia got into ACC play. Like the half-dozen or so 0-for's shooting from the floor, or the six-turnover performance against Miami.

But Clark is still getting key minutes for the 25-2 Cavaliers (15-2 ACC), who can move a step closer to another ACC regular-season title by beating Pitt at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday.

"Obviously he went up and down a little bit this year, but that's going to happen as a freshman. Especially being the only one," UVA junior forward Braxton Key said. "He hasn't really had anyone to compare himself to, so that's kind of difficult as a freshman. But I think he's doing a great job for us.

"Especially playing on a top team, I know that's got to be different and difficult," Key added. "So he's doing a great job coming in every single day and working hard."

Round up redshirt sophomore Jay Huff's 9.9 minutes per game, and UVA has eight players averaging at least 10 minutes per game this season. Seven of those eight are in at least their third year of college. The 5-7 Clark is the lone exception.

Clark's 25.7 minutes per game rank fourth on the team. He's second on the Cavaliers in assists (64) and third in steals (20). Even with that six-turnover afternoon against the Hurricanes -- while starting in place of an injured Ty Jerome -- Clark has turned it over just 29 times in 27 games.

Clark has nine starts on the season, including three in UVA's last four games. In Wednesday's 81-51 win at home over Georgia Tech, Clark finished with eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, matched his career high with six assists, finished with his third straight zero-turnover performance.

"Six assists, zero turnovers. Knocked down a couple 3's, a nice drive. He was very efficient and effective," UVA head coach Tony Bennett said after that win. "That really helps."

Clark's production has taken a bit of a dip in ACC play. He's averaging just 3.4 points per game against conference opponents, after averaging 5.1 points in non-conference play. He shot a combined 0-for-11 in the Cavaliers' previous three games before Wednesday night. He has turned it over 16 times in UVA's 15 ACC games.

Clark admits he's still learning on the job. He's getting smarter about taking care of his body and recovering after games. He also has a better idea of what it takes to play in arguably the top college basketball conference in the country.

"Just staying focused. That's a big thing that the coaches have been talking about, as a group and individually," Clark said. "Just staying focused and being locked in throughout the game. Anybody could beat you in the ACC, so just being ready."



 
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