For those of you that didn’t catch Duke-North Carolina last night, here’s what happened: The Tar Heels led for the entire second half, and then the final buzzer sounded and they walked away with an 85-84 loss. Blue Devils freshman guard Austin Rivers scored a game-winning three-pointer with no time left on the game clock, which was fitting considering Duke’s offensive approach.
The Blue Devils attempted 36 three-pointers against North Carolina. For some context, consider that Virginia has attempted 43 three-pointers in its past three games combined. But the Cavaliers might consider following Duke’s offensive blueprint when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday.
For most of the season, Virginia has not been nearly as effective shooting the ball behind the three-point arc as it was last season when the Cavaliers led the ACC in three-point shooting percentage. Virginia entered Wednesday night’s contest against Wake Forest ranked No. 7 in the conference in that category (34.4 percent) this season.
But Virginia’s long-range shooting has been on an uptick in its past five games. The Cavaliers have made 41.2 percent (28 for 68) of its three-point attempts during that span, and continuing that trend may prove imperative for their chances for victory Saturday against the Tar Heels.
On Wednesday, Duke shot 38.9 percent from three-point range at North Carolina. Well aware of the Tar Heels’ imposing frontcourt trio of Tyler Zeller (7-foot), John Henson (6-foot-11) and Harrison Barnes (6-foot-8), Duke opted to pin its hopes on its ability to make shots from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils attempted 58.1 percent of their shots Wednesday night from three-point range.
Virginia has averaged 14.6 three-point attempts per game this season. The Cavaliers’ season-high in three-point attempts is the 25 they took against Michigan back in late November. But it’s worth noting that the most three-pointers Virginia has attempted in an ACC game this season (18) came against a Florida State squad with a fairly sizeable frontcourt of its own.
If the Cavaliers are going to depend more than usual on their three-point shooting against North Carolina, they’ll need sophomore guard Joe Harris to continue on his recent hot shooting streak. In the past five games, Harris has made 60 percent (15 for 25) of his three-point attempts.
During Wednesday’s 68-44 win over Wake Forest, Harris made three three-pointers before the game’s first media timeout. Especially while fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski continues to work out of his recent shooting rut (2 for 14 from three-point range the past three games; 12 for 47 in ACC play), the Cavaliers need Harris to keep being as offensively assertive as he’s been of late.
While Virginia fell Saturday at Florida State, 58-55, the Cavaliers put forth an impressive late push that enabled them to erase a 13-point deficit. They did so by switching to a four-guard lineup, which opened up the floor and allowed junior point guard Jontel Evans plenty of space to penetrate into the lane and either attempt a lay-up or dish to a perimeter shooter.
Virginia’s preferred strategy against big opposing lineups, it would seem, has been to do what’s possible to keep towering shot-blockers from clogging the paint by spreading them out and then hope that Evans or whoever else is driving into the lane makes a wise decision.
We’ll see how often Coach Tony Bennett goes with that ploy against North Carolina. Virginia, mind you, currently possesses just three healthy scholarship players taller than 6-foot-6. None of them are taller than 6-foot-8.
When asked Wednesday night how he felt about playing essentially the power forward position in Virginia’s four-guard lineup against North Carolina’s frontcourt, Harris stuck to the party line: Whatever the coaches tell him to do, he’s happy to do it.
“I don’t mind banging around with guys down low and that sort of stuff,” Harris said. “And then when I get the ball offensively, I can stretch a four-man defender out and make it difficult for him like that.”