No. 23 Virginia will tip off its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule when it visits Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
The Cavaliers (4-2) are looking to shine in conference play after playing a difficult nonconference slate to open the season. Virginia is coming off a 98-75 loss against No. 1 Gonzaga in its most recent game on Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his players could benefit from the defeat, humbling as it was.
“This was important but painful,” Bennett said. “I wish it wasn’t as poor of a showing as it was, but sometimes you have to be able to know, ‘Who are we? Where are we at?’ I know Gonzaga is great, but we made them look even better than great tonight, and that was discouraging.”
Now comes a chance for a fresh start against Notre Dame (3-4, 0-1 ACC), which also embraced a hard start to the season, playing nonconference games against then-No. 13 Michigan State and then-No. 22 Ohio State. The Fighting Irish lost by 10 points against then-No. 21 Duke in their first ACC contest.
Notre Dame already has dealt with a couple of canceled games and a postponement this season. The Fighting Irish players recently gathered at coach Mike Brey’s house to celebrate Christmas in a year that has been anything but normal.
“We knew going into the season that this was no ordinary year by any means,” Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin said. “As a group, we’ve kind of come together a little bit. We kind of have to be there for each other when we can’t go home and see family, catch up with friends, those kind of things.
“I think just kind of staying solid and especially doing things with our team that kind of takes the place of going home and being with family and everything (benefits us). Doing little things here and there can help us, but we’ve got to stay here to work towards our goal of our next game.”
Goodwin ranks second on the team with an average of 16.1 points per game, just behind Prentiss Hubb (16.4 points). Forward Nate Laszewski is providing 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
For Virginia, forward Sam Hauser is the leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. Guard Trey Murphy III is next at 12.2 points per contest, and forward Jay Huff rounds out the top three at 11.2 points per contest.
The Cavaliers long have had a reputation as a group that prioritizes stingy defense and low-scoring victories, so it should come as no surprise that Bennett wants to see better defense from his team after the loss against Gonzaga.
“Every time we got a little momentum, it was either a turnover or they just got an easy bucket,” Bennett said. “We haven’t guarded well this year yet, and that’s something we’ve just got to keep trying to do. We lost a lot on the defensive side of things, and that’s a place we’ve got to shore up and keep getting better.”
–Field Level Media