SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Until tip-off Tuesday night, Virginia’s first trip to Notre Dame in 23 years had veered completely off script.
Sub-zero temperatures in the Midwest meant the team had to bus into town from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport late Monday night, its plane unable to land in South Bend because of a minus-30 wind chill. The Cavaliers needed a police escort just to get to a shoot-around at Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday morning because of road conditions in the area. A rare snowstorm in the southern part of the country then forced Virginia to cancel a Tuesday night flight back to Charlottesville because its charter plane was stranded on the tarmac in Atlanta.
But on the court, things went much more smoothly, and Coach Tony Bennett didn’t seem to mind the travel snafus once Virginia had rolled past Notre Dame, 68-53, for another road win.
“The silver lining is we got to have some Giordano’s Pizza in Chicago, which was worth it,” he joked, referencing one of the Windy City’s famous deep-dish pizza chains.
Already off to their best start in ACC play in three decades, the Cavaliers matched the 7-1 league record that the Ralph Sampson-led 1982-83 team put together to start its conference slate. But this year’s version has been decimating opponents since the calendar turned to 2014, and Virginia (16-5 overall) feasted on the Fighting Irish, who upset No. 17 Duke here earlier this month.
The Cavaliers have led by at least 20 points and won by double digits in all seven of their ACC victories, a first in school history.
For the fourth time in five games, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon led the charge with 16 points and set a new career high with five steals. He also matched his career high with seven rebounds and six assists. Center Mike Tobey added 14 points as the Cavaliers shot better than 50 percent from the floor for the first time this season against an ACC opponent and “showed a clinic with passing,” point guard London Perrantes said.
“Everybody is maximizing their potential right now and really playing to their fullest, and I think that’s why we’re clicking so well,” Brogdon added.
The Fighting Irish, meanwhile, committed a season-high 20 turnovers, unable to solve Virginia’s post traps all night long. Virginia had 14 steals and turned Notre Dame’s giveaways into 29 points. Guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Zach Auguste (10 points apiece) were the lone Fighting Irish players to finish in double figures in scoring.
If the Cavaliers were affected by the deep freeze outside, it sure didn’t show early on in their first meeting with the Fighting Irish since the 1992 National Invitation Tournament championship game.
Virginia came out blazing, hitting 12 of its first 15 shots on a variety of easy layins and dunks thanks to some superior ball movement and the clever play of Perrantes (five assists). The Cavaliers quickly built a 20-point lead and “broke our spirit,” Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey admitted.
The Fighting Irish did come to life following the final media timeout of the first half, going on a 9-0 surge to cut their deficit to 34-24 heading into halftime. That only gave Bennett ammunition to fire up his team during the break, though, and the Cavaliers soon had another blowout on their hands.
They opened the second half with their own 9-0 run, and the rout was on from there. Once the final buzzer sounded, Brey even conceded Virginia “might be the most confident team in the league.”
“We’re just extremely focused right now,” Tobey said as he put on his team-issued jacket and wool cap, preparing for a reintroduction to the “ridiculous” winter weather. “We’re not letting anything get in our way.”