That block capped what Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski called the most impactful performance of Huff’s career, with the 7-footer collecting 10 blocks — two short of the matching Ralph Sampson’s program record — along with 15 points and nine rebounds without a turnover.
The redshirt junior’s development has coincided with the Cavaliers’ resurgence in the last month and a half.
“He’s gotten more opportunities, of course, playing time,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said of Huff. “He’s practiced better, the right kind of confidence. I think he’s improved defensively. His shot-blocking has been a factor. I like his maturation. He’s been patient.”
Huff enters this week’s ACC tournament averaging 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds over the past three games, playing with more moxie than at any point in his career as the second-seeded Cavaliers (23-7) get set to face No. 7 Notre Dame or No. 10 Boston College in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The tournament went off as scheduled Wednesday in a crowded arena in Greensboro, but the conference said late yesterday afternoon the remainder of the tournament would go on without fans out of concerns from the coronavirus.
The player other coaches in the ACC have called a “difference maker” this season also averaged nearly 33 minutes in that span, well above his overall season average of 25 and more than three times as much as he averaged in each of his first two seasons in Charlottesville.
With Huff anchoring the interior, Virginia has won eight in a row, the longest active streak in the conference, and has lost just once since Jan. 20, with eight of those victories by one possession.
Affirming Bennett’s growing trust in Huff was the decision to leave him on the court along with 6-9 forward Mamadi Diakite down the stretch against Louisville, which deployed a smaller lineup to try to produce offensive mismatches.
“I’ve guarded smaller people before,” Huff said. “Most of the time in high school I was guarding guys like that, so I’m kind of used to it. I’m glad that it has worked out.”
Huff grew up in Durham, N.C., less than an hour from Greensboro Coliseum, the site of the ACC tournament, and indicated he expects to have plenty of family and friends attend as Virginia bids to win a fourth title and third under Bennett.
The Cavaliers last won the ACC tournament in 2018 when it took place in Brooklyn. They also won it in 2014 at Greensboro Coliseum.
“We are going to keep evolving no matter what,” Diakite said. “Like I said, the job is not done.”
With Huff and Diakite occupying the painted area and 6-8 Braxton Key on the wing, Virginia surges into the ACC tournament behind one of the longest lineups in the conference but one that still possesses the agility to switch in defending any position from the 2 through the 5.
Key is 11th in the ACC in rebounding, averaging 7.4 per game. Diakite is 15th (6.8) and Huff 18th (6.2), with the Cavaliers ranking fourth in the ACC in rebounding margin (plus-3.6 per game).
Bennett also has rotated 6-7 Kody Stattmann and 6-5 Tomas Woldestensae on the wing, adding two more players whose length can be bothersome along the perimeter.
“One thing about Virginia is their length,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not just Diakite and Huff. Their wings are tall. The two things you can’t practice against unless you have them are quickness and length. Their length, it helps them tremendously on their defense.”