Virginia's 'slow' play continues to be Notre Dame's kryptonite in 71-54 rout

Virginia coach Tony Bennett reacts to a call during his team's win over Notre Dame on Tuesday. (AP)
Virginia coach Tony Bennett reacts to a call during his team’s win over Notre Dame on Tuesday. (AP)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Isaiah Wilkins stood outside the Virginia locker room and deflected the first question — about how his Cavaliers always seem to keep Notre Dame’s high-octane attack in check — with all the ease of anyone else who came the Hoos’ way in this 71-54 victory.

“We prepare for it in practice,” Wilkins said. “The coaches do a great job of setting up a scouting report for us, and we just go out and execute.”

On a night when Virginia outscored the Irish 15-2 on second-chance points, it was the follow-up query, about dictating tempo, that tripped the junior up.

“I think … ” he began, before a long pause, “ … we just play slow. I don’t know. We try not to let them get out in transition. We play slow. We play our game. We’re not going to surprise anybody. We just do what we do.”

The assembled reporters let out a laugh, with one even cracking: “Somebody admitted it.”

So Virginia plays slow. Breaking news. The nation probably doesn’t need Wilkins to spell it out for everyone at this point. The evidence for why was once again in the doing Tuesday night.

It was right there in the Irish’s 3-for-18 night from deep, after entering the game leading the ACC in 3s per game (10.0) and 3-point percentage (.410). It was there in the measly two fast-break points the Hoos allowed. It was there in the 10 turnovers they forced to the nine assists they surrendered — against a team that entered with the nation’s second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.77).

Oh, and it was there in the season-low 54 points the Irish scored.

Notre Dame has played in the ACC for four seasons now, and it is safe to say the toughest part of its schedule is in its rearview mirror. That’s because the Irish — who have already won an ACC tournament, and who entered Purcell Pavilion in a three-way tie atop the league — had failed to beat just one of their 14 conference comrades since coming over from the Big East.

But that outlier, Virginia, extended the matchup-induced misery, holding Notre Dame to its season-low point total for the third time in four years. Moreover, in 2014, the Hoos held the Irish to their two lowest point totals of the season.

Virginia is 5-0 against Notre Dame since then. Cavs coach Tony Bennett is now 6-0 against Irish boss Mike Brey. The visitors entered with the nation’s top scoring defense at 53.2 points per clip, and they kept an Irish team that was scoring 81.2 points to just a smudge above that number (54).

“I felt we did a good job of keeping our man in front of us so they couldn’t get to the paint off the dribble,” guard London Perrantes said.

The Irish had four players averaging more than 14 points per game, but only two reached that total: Steve Vasturia (14) and Bonzie Colson (20).

Coming off a career-high 30-point performance against Syracuse, V.J. Beachem shot 1-for-10 from the floor, and 0 of 5 from 3. And even Colson, despite the big numbers, was kept in check late, getting off just two second-half shots and scoring six points after a first half that saw him post nine straight points during one stretch for the Irish, who trailed by just one at the break.

“We trapped him the first couple times, but we really worked on fighting his catch, trying to push him off the block,” Wilkins said.

Notre Dame finished with season-lows in rebounds (22), 3-point shooting (16.7 percent) and free-throw shooting (64.7 percent). And because Virginia insists on making nothing easy, the Cavs extended their winning streak to five games despite Perrantes, their leading scorer, suffering from flu symptoms on a day in which he estimates he ate “half a meal.”

All he did was post 22 points and five rebounds, connecting on 5-of-8 shots from deep.

“Our guys knew we’d have to play really well because of how they’d been playing,” Bennett said. “They’re so good offensively and they just looked a little flat tonight. … (We) kept them in front for the most part; I thought that was the story line for us defensively — being back and not giving up a lot of dribble-penetration.”

A storyline that Notre Dame is all too familiar with when facing its ACC kryptonite in orange and blue.

Virginia's Mamadi Diakite (25) knocks the ball away from Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite (25) knocks the ball away from Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)