With his near-triple-double in a 52-50 win over No. 7 Duke on Saturday night at John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia's 7-foot junior center added another keepsake to his collection. And this one, he said, is more meaningful.
"I'd be a liar if I said I didn't get a little bit more amped up, I guess, for Duke games in my past years and this year, obviously," Huff said.
That extra incentive pushed Huff to a career-high 10 blocks, including a denial of Vernon Carey Jr.'s jumper with five seconds to play, preserving a sixth consecutive win that moved the Cavaliers (21-7, 13-5) into third place in the ACC — a game behind Florida State and Louisville — with two games to go.
Huff's block total fell just two shy of Ralph Sampson's single-game school record. With Sampson on hand, Huff added 15 points and nine rebounds as Virginia ended a three-game home losing streak to Duke, which has lost three of four as March arrives.
Mamadi Diakite's jumper with 17 seconds left put Virginia ahead to stay at 51-50. That came just moments before the signature play of Huff's career so far allowed the Cavaliers to get their fifth victory by a single possession during their six-game winning streak.
"We've been in these spots a lot," Coach Tony Bennett said. "You have to make plays defensively as much as offensively. They were both made. Duke is so good defensively. I don't know if we could have found any more points than those 52."
After swatting Carey (17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks), Huff made 1 of 2 free throws for the final margin, and the announced crowd of 14,629 celebrated after a desperation heave by point guard Tre Jones (17 points) clanked off the iron at the buzzer.
Braxton Key chipped in 14 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks but committed six of the Cavaliers' 15 turnovers. The Cavaliers overcame that deficiency in part by limiting the Blue Devils to 30.5 percent shooting.
Four straight free throws, both on one-and-one opportunities by Diakite and Kihei Clark, had given Virginia a 47-45 lead with 3:14 left. After Jones made a three-pointer for Duke, Key dunked on a pass from Clark with 2:31 to play, setting up the frenetic finish of a game with 14 lead changes.
A 9-3 run drew the Cavaliers even at 39 with 9:48 left in the second half and featured Huff collecting an offensive rebound before reverse dunking with both hands. Diakite added a three-pointer, and Key's swooping layup led to a Duke timeout. Jones answered by sinking a three-pointer as the Blue Devils reclaimed the lead at 42-39 with 9:06 to go.
"It was going to be a really good, tough win for one team and a tough loss for the other, and they got the tough win," Krzyzewski said. "Both teams played outstanding defense, and I thought the difference maker for them was Huff. Huff had his best game today — and don't get me wrong, he's had a lot of great games. Today he had his best game, especially in rim protection."
Once firmly in control of the ACC's top spot, Duke had absorbed two losses in three games over the past week and a half, allowing Florida State and Louisville to move ahead of it in the standings. The most disturbing of the Blue Devils' losses came to Wake Forest, 113-101, in double overtime Tuesday. The Demon Deacons had lost seven of nine before upsetting the five-time national champions.
With three days of rest and preparation, Duke emerged re-energized in the first half against the Cavaliers, using a 12-2 burst for an 18-13 lead, partly while Key was on the bench briefly after limping off the court. Key rejoined his teammates with more than nine minutes left in the half, and Bennett immediately subbed him back into the game. His presence helped spark a rally that included consecutive dunks by Huff, the second a one-handed slam off a lob from Clark, and left the score tied at 25 at halftime.
"That's human nature when your offense is cooking and defensively everybody is all revved up," Bennett said. "I think Jay got a couple terrific dunks and plays that he made. The crowd was just so excited in here. You needed it all. He was certainly fired up, and we have to keep stepping in the right direction with that."