Virginia head coach Tony Bennett reacts to a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech, in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber
February 10, 2016

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Seventh-ranked Virginia had lost its way, then got a fortuitous bounce and the Cavaliers have been on a roll since.

The shot that might have turned Virginia's season around had no business going in.

Reserve Darius Thompson, camped out at the 3-point line, took a pass from Devon Hall with the game clock about to expire. With Wake Forest's Devin Thomas racing out, left arm extended, Thompson launched a shot that arched high in the air, hit the backboard and went through the net, giving the Cavaliers an improbable 72-71 victory at Wake Forest.

Coach Tony Bennett was almost apologetic for stealing the game afterward, but it sparked Virginia's seven-game winning streak.

''I think that whole Darius at Wake Forest shot kind of put something in our tanks,'' senior forward Anthony Gill said after the Cavaliers latest win, a 67-49 victory against Virginia Tech on Tuesday night. The win ''gave us a lot of energy and let us know that we can really go out here and compete with each and every team in the ACC.''

Before the fortunate ricochet, Virginia had lost three times in four games, a dry spell that began with a 70-68 loss at Virginia Tech more than three weeks earlier. That loss against the Hokies ended an 11-game winning streak.

Bennett had set up a challenging nonconference schedule with an eye on preparing the Cavaliers for March. Virginia handled the challenge, including games against No. 1 Villanova and No. 10 West Virginia, but something still wasn't right.

''I would say that we weren't playing Virginia basketball even before'' the loss at Virginia Tech, Gill said. ''Even with the games that we were winning before that, that's not the typical UVa basketball that you normally would see, and this last stretch of games that we've been winning is because we got back to the way we play basketball.''

''Virginia basketball'' has always started with defense in Bennett's seven seasons at the school. In their first 20 games, Morgan State of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference was the only team held to 50 points or less. In the last four games, No. 13 Louisville, Boston College, Pittsburgh and the Hokies all have scored 50 or fewer, and the double-digit victories against Louisville and Pittsburgh came on the road.

''That's what's made this team successful in the past and we're trying to get back to that,'' senior center Mike Tobey said after the Cavaliers turned 15 turnovers into 21 points and limited the Hokies to 35.6 percent shooting.

A key to the defensive turnaround has been the insertion of Isaiah Wilkins into the starting lineup.

''He makes it a lot easier on me, especially on the defensive end because I know that he's going to be there for me,'' Gill said of Wilkins, the sophomore stepson of NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. ''He makes it a lot easier for the guards as well because they know that he's going to be there for the help. When we're blowing up ball screens, he's always going to be there, he's never going to be late. He's always going to rotate where he should be and he's a very unselfish player, and that's what we need out of him.''

Wilkins has also shown a knack for making the foul-line and mid-range jumpers, and his 52.3 percent shooting has presented a problem for teams collapsing on Gill and Tobey.

Against the Hokies, Wilkins scored a career-best 14 points.

But it's getting back to playing their trademark defense that has them on a roll.


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