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Game Preview: Virginia Basketball at Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers travel to the Steel City on Wednesday night looking to complete the season sweep over the Panthers

Virginia held a seven-point advantage over Wake Forest midway through the second half and seemed to be playing well enough to be on the way to moving to 5-2 in ACC play. But, the Cavaliers crumbled down the stretch. A team with virtually zero perimeter shooting also went 6/23 on layups and the Demon Deacons were able to break down Virginia’s defense too many times late in the game. The Cavaliers’ window of opportunity to hit their stride in time for an NCAA Tournament push is closing quickly.

The hardest parts of the schedule are still to come for the Hoos, so getting back in the win column at Pittsburgh is crucial for UVA. The Panthers have certainly had their struggles this season, but the Cavaliers know better than to overestimate them, as Pittsburgh led Virginia by four points with less than 15 seconds remaining when the two teams met in Charlottesville in early December before Jayden Gardner scored five straight points in the final moments to lift the Hoos over the Panthers. 

Game Details

Who: Virginia Cavaliers (10-7, 4-3) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (7-10, 2-4)

When: Wednesday, January 19th at 9pm

Where: Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

How to watch: ACC Network

All-time series: Virginia leads 18-4

Last meeting: Virginia defeated Pittsburgh 57-56 on December 3rd, 2021 on a last-second jumper by Jayden Gardner. 

By the Numbers

Virginia Cavaliers vs. Pittsburgh Panthers

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Opponent Outlook: Pittsburgh

Notable results: West Virginia (74-59 L), Minnesota (54-53 L), Virginia (57-56 L), St. John's (59-57 W), Notre Dame (68-67 L), Louisville (75-72 L), Boston College (69-67 W)

Pittsburgh has largely had a disappointing season thus far with an overall record of 7-10 and an offense ranked second to last in the ACC in scoring. However, with just a quick glance at some of their final scores, it becomes obvious that the Panthers have been a few unlucky bounces away from being an above .500 team. 12 of Pittsburgh's 17 games have been determined by 10 points or less and three of Pitt's ACC losses have come by a combined five points. The Panthers have also been playing better basketball of late, winning two of their last three ACC contests, including a 65-53 victory over Louisville on Saturday. 

John Hugley has greatly improved as Pittsburgh's leading scorer as the season has progressed. The 6'9" forward averages 15.4 points per game (11th in the ACC) and 8.1 rebounds per game (4th in the ACC). Virginia held Hugley in check for the most part in the first meeting, as he recorded 12 points on 2/11 shooting from the field. Doing so again will be challenging, but just as pivotal for the Cavaliers in the rematch. 

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Pittsburgh has three other players scoring in double figures: Jamarius Burton (13.0 ppg), Ithiel Horton (13.0 ppg), Femi Odukale (11.9 ppg). Burton is also the ACC leader in free throw percentage at 91.7%. 

What to Watch For

Gardner looks to shake the slump

Jayden Gardner leads the Cavaliers in scoring, but has seen his average fall to 14.3 points per game after scoring just four points against Virginia Tech last Wednesday and nine points against Wake Forest on Saturday. UVA is still in desperate need of consistent scoring outside of the transfer duo of Gardner and Armaan Franklin (12.5 ppg), so the Cavaliers cannot afford to have Gardner continue to struggle on the offensive end.  

Low-scoring affair

This matchup combines two of the top three scoring defenses in the ACC (No. 1 Virginia - 58.6 ppg allowed, No. 3 Pittsburgh - 64.9 ppg allowed) as well as the bottom two offenses in the ACC. Like the first matchup, expect this game to be in the 50s, barring some unusual offensive explosion from one or both of these teams. 

Coming down to the wire

Both the Panthers and the Cavaliers have made a habit out of close games this season and their last meeting was no exception, with Virginia prevailing 57-56 in Charlottesville. Pitt and UVA have played a combined 21 games that were decided by 10 points or less this season. Wednesday night's game in the Steel City will likely come down to the wire as well. 

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