Scouting Final Four teams: How to beat Virginia

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NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four. 

The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty. 

Up first, we have Virginia.

IT ALL STARTS WITH THEIR DEFENSE

Every one knows about Virginia’s defense. They run the Pack-Line, they run it better than anyone else in the country and they’ve been a mainstay in the top five of KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings over the course of the last six seasons. I asked coaches how they go about beating what has been the best defense in the sport over the course of the last half-decade.

“Everything starts with their defense, because their style of play makes it very difficult for a team that’s used to playing fast if that team can’t play slow as well. It’s hard. Because they force you to play at their pace.”

“The first thing is if you can get a stop and try to get out and score in early, drag situations, kick aheads, single-double pick and rolls. You want to try to score before it’s set. Once you’re in the half court, it really does require a level of toughness offensively to screen them. Run multiple actions on both sides of the floor. Run a pick on single side bump defender because you know he’s going to be in there tagging. Get it to [the helper’s] man.”

“You have to make threes against them. You won’t get a lot at the rim. You won’t get a lot off penetration. You have to create shots with off-ball movement.”

“They usually post-trap. We’ve had more success throwing it in to guys off the block when they are post-trapping. You can only throw it into the post from the high-post. Run some high-low action, it’s harder for them to double that way.”

“Do you have some playmakers in the front court that you can play through? Do you have a great post passer that can handle being double-teamed? Also, if your bigs can shoot, putting shooting in at the five to get Jack Salt in a situation where you know he’s not gong to switch.”

“The other thing is, historically, someone has to have a big game against them. Like Carsen Edwards.”

“Purdue hung with them because they have Carsen. Most teams don’t.”

“Virginia had the blueprint [to stop Purdue] and Carsen went out and individually made some tough plays. If you look at the times people beat them, dudes made plays. Virginia is going to make you make tough, contested shots off the dribble.”

“They can get beat early in a possession in terms of teams being ready to shoot. And shoot with confidence. They’re going to make you catch-and-shoot in the halfcourt. And you have to consistently make shots the whole time. They’ll give you those. It’s what the Pack-Line is designed to do.”

And if worst comes to worst, get every edge you can.

“Stay on the refs. They’re really handsy, bumping, holding, fouling with their lower body, with their hands. They’re not outstanding movers but they teach defense well enough and they have the respect of the refs. People know they’re Virginia.”

THEY RUN TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT OFFENSES

For years, Tony Bennett and Virginia have been known for running the Blocker-Mover offense that Tony’s dad, Dick Bennett, developed. The Blocker-Mover is an offense that features three “movers” continuously running off of screens set by the two “blockers.” This year, however, Virginia has transitioned into running more Ball-Screen Continuity, which is an offense that relies much more on spacing, three-point shooting and is more effective with smaller lineups.

“Early in the season, they were really into the Blocker-Mover stuff, but not as much later in the year. They come and go with that, but when they run it, you can’t chase pin-downs. That opens up curling off of those screens. It opens up the pocket-pass to the big guy. They can make curl jumpshots. They can pass out if you help, and they’ll kill you with the flares. You have to make them see that you’re chasing them and then go over the screen at the last second.”

“The Ball-Screen Continuity, they’ve gone to that a lot. They don’t come off the first ball-screen looking to attack or shoot. You can go under it, and you cannot switch it. Switching is doable, but you cannot do it early in the shot block. They will be patient and poised as they find the mismatch. They can get a big on a little, get you into foul trouble that way, but the harder part is when they get you with someone bigger on Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome. They’ll make them chase around screens.”

“Both offenses, they mix up what they do. It will seem simple enough, and then suddenly they’re running an action where your tagger is thinking about the role man while Kyle Guy in the weakside corner is flying off a pindown. As simple as it is, the way in which they do it, the intention they have, they almost run it slowly just to try and pick you apart to see where the help is, or where the switch is. They are really, really good at figuring out what you’re doing and taking advantage of it.”

THEY’RE MORE VERSATILE THAN THEY HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST

One of the reasons Bennett has incorporated more Ball-Screen Continuity into his offense is that he has a more versatile and skilled roster than he has had in the past.

“The Ball-Screen Continuity, they’re going to run it hard and put you in multiple actions because of their ability to stretch the floor, especially when Hunter is at the four. When Jay Huff is in there at the five, they’ll four or five guys that can make a three. It creates a different look for them than in the past, when they had big guys like Anthony Gill. I would guess that’s some of the reason why they’re running more Ball-Screen Continuity, so they can spread it a little more on the perimeter.”

“I think Kihei Clark coming in and moving Guy and Jerome off the ball gives them a real threat, playmaking at three positions. They’re more skilled.”

“You can play some zone, a 1-3-1, because you don’t have to guard Kihei. When he drives, he’s driving to pass. If he’s going to beat you, you have to live with it.”

“Ty is so good in ball screens it opens up opportunities for him to play pick-and-roll and not just run Blocker-Mover.”

KYLE GUY IS THE PLAYER TO KEY ON

“De’Andre Hunter is their best player, but we were most worried about Guy because he has game-changing ability. As good as Hunter is, he’s not a hungry scorer. We knew where we would have to guard him — those elbow iso’s 3-4 times a game — and he can shoot it, but we were more concerned with Guy as a cutter. He is relentless and always cutting hard. He is going to get 10 threes off and he can make six or seven, easy. That, more than anything, is the game-changing part.”

“It was Guy for us. Jerome, too. He’s the most versatile of their threats in terms of being able to make a three, floaters and runners. They play off the deep shooting of Guy and Jerome, and as good of a coach as Tony is, those two kids they take and make really difficult, long threes that are hard to defend.”

THE BEST MATCHUP IS? AND THE WORST MATCHUP IS?

“Auburn is the best and worst. The thing about them, as many threes as they shoot, if they don’t shoot the ball well, they’re going to get drilled by UVA. Virginia is going to take care of the ball, they’re not going to open the game up and play frenetic. You’ll miss shots and get grinded.”

“But if they get hot, they’ll shoot 40 threes if they want. UVA will allow them those shots. If you can consistently hurt them fro the outside, you can hang in the game. The way that Auburn plays, they’re tricky and wild, which can win or lose them the game.”

No. 1 South Carolina tops fifth-ranked UConn 81-77

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HARTFORD, Conn. – In a rematch of last season’s national championship game, South Carolina came out on top again over UConn thanks to a strong fourth quarter by Aliyah Boston.

Geno Auriemma stepping onto the court to spike a water botte, that helped them, too.

Boston scored 23 of her 26 points in the second half, including 14 in the final period, to help the No. 1 Gamecocks beat the fifth-ranked Huskies 81-77 on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd.

“Aliyah is just relentless, she plays relentlessly although she had a subpar (first half) as far as statistics, she impacted the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She doesn’t get flustered. she knew she didn’t play up to her standards. What does she do? Raise her standard. Bad first half or not she’s going to continue to play.”

While there wasn’t as much on the line as the title game last April, there was a high intensity to it, including Auriemma getting the technical late in the fourth quarter after getting frustrated by the officiating enough to throw the bottle.

“I thought there were a lot of things being overlooked. It was difficult for some of our guys to move out on the floor,” said Auriemma, UConn’s coach. “I didn’t think it was one key play, I just couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It was bad. … Dumb mistake by me. Bad decision.”

The Gamecocks (23-0) have won 29 consecutive games since losing to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game last year. They’ve won four of the past five meetings with the Huskies, including a victory in the NCAA championship game last season. That ended UConn’s perfect 11-0 record in title games.

“This was a national championship-like game. I wanted us to feel what it takes to do this,” Staley said.

Now South Carolina finally has a win in Connecticut after winning there before.

South Carolina used its size again to top the Huskies. The 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year helped the Gamecocks have a 42-30 advantage on the boards, including grabbing 25 offensive rebounds.

Boston finished with 11 rebounds for the 76th double-double of her career. Cardoso added 17 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

With her team leading by four in the fourth quarter, Boston took over. She scored the next 12 points for South Carolina, two of those came when Auriemma tossed the water onto the court and was charged with the technical foul.

Boston hit the two free throws. She then hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and another basket to give the Gamecocks a double-digit advantage.

“I’m kind of in attack mode. In the second half I made more shots then I did in the first half,” Boston said.

Despite seeing their starting backcourt foul out, the short-handed Huskies (21-3) wouldn’t go away. They whittled the lead down to 80-77 with 10.8 seconds left on Aubrey Griffin’s three-point play.

Raven Johnson hit the first of two free throws a second later and UConn couldn’t convert to close out the game

“They have a lot to feel good about once they get past what it feels like to lose,” Auriemma said. “I feel better at 3 o’clock today then I did at 12 o’clock. I didn’t know how we’d respond. I knew we’d play hard and compete like hell. I didn’t know who was going to make a big play, who was going to get a big rebound, make a big shot. I know now more than I did at noon and I feel better about my team.”

Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 25 points.

UConn got off to a solid start, outscoring South Carolina 25-14 in the opening period. Lou Lopez Senechal capped the strong start, hitting a running 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

South Carolina asserted its size in the second quarter with Cardoso scoring 11 points in the period. Her putback with just under 10 seconds left tied the game at 34 heading into the half.

TIP-INS:

UConn is 8-10 against No. 1 teams all time. … The Huskies are still missing guards Azzi Fudd (knee), Caroline Ducharme (concussion) as well as Paige Bueckers (knee) and Ice Brady (knee), who are both out for the season. … Many former UConn players were in the crowd including Sue Bird, Jen Rizzotti, and Napheesa Collier sitting a few rows behind the Huskies bench. … South Carolina has gone 41-6 against ranked teams since the start of the 2019-20 season.

DEPTH:

The Gamecocks reserves outscored UConn’s 37-0. The Huskies only had eight healthy players.

UP NEXT:

South Carolina: visits Auburn on Thursday before a showdown with No. 3 LSU on Feb. 12

UConn: visits Marquette on Wednesday.

No. 16 Duke tops No. 9 Notre Dame 57-52 for 1st place in ACC

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Celeste Taylor scored 14 points and No. 16 Duke came from behind for a 57-52 victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday to move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Trailing for most of the game’s first 28 minutes, the Blue Devils (20-3, 10-2 ACC) took the lead for good in the final minutes of the third quarter to knock off the Fighting Irish (18-4, 9-3) before a sellout crowd of 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion.

A jumper by Jordyn Oliver put Duke ahead 45-44 with 1:20 left in the third quarter and the visitors never trailed after that.

“I’m proud of my players for finishing the game,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said.

Duke led 48-46 going into the fourth quarter after trailing Notre Dame by as many as five points in the third quarter. A steal by Elizabeth Balogun in the final 15 seconds helped seal the win.

A 13-4 run helped Notre Dame take its biggest lead of the first half for either team at 31-23. The Irish led 31-25 at halftime.

“We fell short, but you know it’s a part of our growth,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “It’s part of our journey.”

Taylor scored 10 points for Duke in the second half. Balogun and Shayeann Day-Wilson finished with 9 points apiece and Taya Corosdale and Oliver had 8 each.

Maddy Westbeld, playing all 40 minutes, led Notre Dame with 15 points, Sonia Citron scored 14 and Olivia Miles added 11.

“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Lawson said of Miles, who logged just over 31 minutes. “We didn’t have to go against her for a quarter of the game.”

COLD SHOOTING

Neither team shot well in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame made just 2 of 13 shots from the floor and Duke was 3 of 13.

“We just talked about staying disciplined defensively and making it hard,” Lawson said. “I though we challenged shots.”

Ivey also addressed that stretch of the game.

“Some of those opportunities were in transition and we didn’t get a chance to capitalize,” she said. “We did a good job of finding the open person, we just didn’t nail the shots.”

SUPERB SUBS

Led by Corosdale and Oliver, Duke enjoyed a 21-4 edge in reserve scoring.

“I’m really proud of my players off the bench,” Lawson said. “Jordyn Oliver was really good.

“We needed to have that depth in scoring. Not only did they score but they were efficient from the field.”

The Blue Devils’ bench shot 9 of 15.

SHORT-HANDED IRISH

Notre Dame graduate student Dara Mabrey was lost for the season in the Jan. 22 game against Virginia.

Lauren Ebo, a 6-foot-4 graduate student, has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.

“Ebo does a great job of being a precence on the block with her size and ability to rebound and play post defense,” Ivey said. “She’s been working really hard (at rehabilitation).

“It’s kind of day to day.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish fell out of a first-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings.

Duke: The Blue Devils are now alone atop the conference standings.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: The Irish meet Pitt in two of the next four contests – on Thursday in South Bend and on Sunday, Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh.

Duke: The only regular-season meeting between the Blue Devils and Boston College is Thursday at Boston.

Colorado State sorry for ‘Russia’ chant at Ukrainian player

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State has apologized for a group of fans who chanted “Russia” at a player on an opposing team who is from Ukraine during Saturday’s game.

Utah State’s Max Shulga is from Kyiv and was shooting free throws when TV cameras picked up the chant from the student section during the game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“On behalf of Colorado State, we apologize to the student-athlete and Utah State. This is a violation of our steadfast belief in the Mountain West Sportsmanship Policy and University Principles of Community,” Colorado State said in a statement.

“Every participant, student, and fan should feel welcomed in our venues, and for something like this to have occurred is unacceptable at Colorado State.”

Utah State beat CSU 88-79.

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

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DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.