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Kihei Clark

Kihei Clark

The Virginia men’s basketball exhibition tour in Italy came to an end on Friday in thrilling fashion, as UVA’s rematch against KK Mega Basket in Rapallo needed two overtime periods in order to determine a winner. After cruising to blowout wins in the first two games of the exhibition tour, Virginia was given a rude awakening as a solid KK Mega Basket team filled with talented players with professional basketball experience outplayed and beat UVA 92-73 on Thursday. After that humbling, but valuable learning experience, the Cavaliers got an immediate chance for redemption as they came back the very next day to face the same KK Mega Basket team on Friday. Virginia led for nearly the entirety of regulation, but a one-footed jumper from KK Mega Basket’s Malcolm Cazalon (198-SG-2001, agency: BeoBasket) beat the buzzer to send the game to overtime. One extra period was not enough to determine a victor, but UVA hung tough and eventually emerged victorious, avenging Thursday’s loss with a 94-87 win. Under Tony Bennett’s rotation system, wherein three players sit out each of UVA’s games in Italy, first years Ryan Dunn, Isaac Traudt (208-PF), and Leon Bond (196-SF) were inactive for Thursday’s loss. Those three freshmen returned to the floor for Friday’s rematch, while Armaan Franklin (193-G-2000), Jayden Gardner, and Kadin Shedrick (211-PF) – all upperclassmen and starters from last year’s team – were inactive for the final game of the tour. UVA went with a starting five of Kihei Clark (175-PG-2000), Reece Beekman (190-G-2001), Isaac McKneely (193-G), Ben Vander Plas, and Francisco Caffaro (213-C-2000). Perhaps due to different personnel making for more advantageous matchups or maybe due to Tony Bennett and the UVA coaching staff making strategic adjustments after the first game, the rematch on Friday went much better for the Hoos, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Virginia led 18-11 at the end of the first quarter behind seven points from Kihei Clark and six from Reece Beekman. By halftime, the Cavaliers had built a 10-point advantage as first-year Isaac McKneely paced the team with eight points, including a pair of three-pointers. UVA led 34-24 at the half, a marked improvement on the defensive end after yielding 44 points in the first half on Thursday. KK Mega Basket cut that deficit in half by the end of the third, but eight third-quarter points from Reece Beekman helped the Hoos maintain a 52-47 lead. With UVA leading by two points with just a few seconds remaining on the clock, KK Mega Basket’s Malcolm Cazalon hit a highly-contested one-footed jumper from just inside the top of the key as the buzzer sounded to tie the game at 69-69 and send it to overtime. Reece Beekman continued his solid performance in overtime, helping the Cavaliers keep pace with KK Mega Basket as the game was still tied at 79-79 after the first overtime period. Tony Bennett also picked up a rare technical late in the first overtime in response to a series of questionable calls by the officiating crew. ‘You had to overcome a lot of unique calls, a lot of unique situations,’ Bennett told Jeff White after the game. “We would have been fine either way, but it’s just a quality team, and I just felt like there was some things out of our control that were really troubling… Everyone’s a competitor. They are, we are, the officials are, and I think my Italian bloodlines got the best me in this place at times, because I let the officials know a few things that I probably shouldn’t have.” Kihei Clark scored 10 of his 23 points in the final five minutes of the second overtime and at long last, Virginia managed to rebuild a multi-possession lead and ice the game, ending the Italy tour on a high note.
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