Surging No. 2 Virginia visits Wake Forest
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- No. 2 Virginia goes surging into Sunday night's game at Wake Forest without a string of convincing victories.
That's how it happens when things are going good.
"Our word in the locker room is 'trust,' " Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "Trust each other. Trust your teammates and trust how we're doing it the right way."
So far, there can be few complaints for the Cavaliers (17-1, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who hold a nine-game winning streak and sit alone in first place in the ACC.
A victory in this game would give the Cavaliers their second 7-0 conference start in four seasons.
Wake Forest (8-10, 1-5) is trying to escape a four-game losing streak.
Virginia is 3-1 in true road games after winning 64-48 on Thursday night at Georgia Tech. It marked the eighth time this season a Virginia opponent has failed to reach the 50-point mark.
But this marks the midway juncture of a stretch of three road games in a four-game span.
"We acknowledged the fact that it's going to get harder as the season progresses," Bennett said. "The competition, the road games, the home games -- it's just how it is. The season is going to get tougher as we go on the road more."
The Cavaliers put some emphasis on reducing turnovers and a steadier approach in offensive rebounding.
Wake Forest has rarely had trouble scoring this season, except for at the end of games. The Demon Deacons were victims of North Carolina State's game-closing 11-0 run in Thursday night's 72-63 road loss.
"I thought we had opportunities to score," Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. "We just didn't make shots. We got the ball to the rim a couple of times and didn't finish when we needed to."
That has been a troubling trend because the Demon Deacons tumbled with horrid final stretches against Tennessee and North Carolina in losses in late December.
Now Wake Forest begins a stretch of six consecutive games against teams that are ranked or have been nationally ranked this season.
The Demon Deacons have made at least nine 3-point baskets in each of their ACC games this season. Still, Wake Forest tends to operate best when it's able to push the ball inside, particularly to 7-foot-1 junior center Doral Moore.
Virginia's 3-point defense ranks as the best in the ACC, allowing only 29.9 percent of the long-range shots to be successful.
The emergence of Virginia's De'Andre Hunter, a redshirt freshman guard who has been coming off the bench, has helped the Cavaliers adjust to various matchups. Plus, he has been able to contribute offensively.
"The balanced scoring was good," Bennett said of the Georgia Tech game when four Cavaliers reached double figures. "He's given us some inside-outside."
Having that versatility could come in handy against Wake Forest, which went to a twin-towers approach with Moore and 7-foot reserve Olivier Sarr at times in its most recent game. Regardless, the Demon Deacons tend to mix it up, with three reserves logging at least 20 minutes in their last game.
"If you're helping the team be successful in that game, that's who should play," Manning said. "It helps keep your practices lively because guys know if they get in and help the team be successful, they'll get a chance to play extended minutes."
Updated January 20, 2018