No. 16 Virginia set to test mettle of No. 1 Gonzaga
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Issues with COVID-19 wiped out Virginia's opportunities to test itself against perennial powers Michigan State, Villanova and Florida.
An even bigger test is on tap, however, as the No. 16 Cavaliers (4-1) take on No. 1 Gonzaga (6-0) on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas. The nonconference clash was added to the schedule on Dec. 17.
"We're excited for the challenge," forward Kadin Shedrick said Tuesday following Virginia's 76-40 home victory against William & Mary. "I think it'll be cool to get a marquee game in before the conference play starts. We're all really looking forward to it."
Shedrick tallied 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench against the Tribe as the Cavaliers returned from an 18-day layoff. Trey Murphy III scored 15 points and Sam Hauser and Jay Huff added nine points apiece.
The Cavaliers have won three straight and are playing their signature brand of defense, holding opponents to just 54.0 points per game on 36.3 percent shooting so far this season.
But Virginia hasn't faced anything like Gonzaga, which ranks third in the nation with 94.7 points per game and is shooting 55.1 percent from the field as a team.
When he coached at Washington State from 2006-09, Virginia coach Tony Bennett's Cougars were 2-1 against the Zags.
"When you play a team as talented and explosive as Gonzaga, I don't know what prepares you for that," Bennett said. "I know how good they are, and I know what we'll have to do at a very high level to be in a game like that and make it competitive and hopefully be successful."
Following their own 17-day layoff due to COVID-19 concerns, the Bulldogs showed no rust in their 99-88 win over then-No. 3 Iowa last Saturday and back-to-back wins by a combined 55-point cushion on Monday and Tuesday against Northwestern State.
Fueled by forwards Corey Kispert (20.8 points per game) and Drew Timme (20.3) and freshman guard Jalen Suggs (16.3), Gonzaga has scored at least 87 points in all six games.
This is the biggest game remaining on the Zags' schedule before West Coast Conference play begins Jan. 2 against a San Francisco team that knocked off Virginia, 61-60, on Nov. 27 in Uncasville, Conn.
"Obviously, Virginia is one of those programs that's always going to be in the hunt for a No. 1 seed year in and year out, and this year will be no different," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Tony is just a fabulous coach. It's going be a huge challenge playing that style and their toughness and discipline, but it'll be great for us moving forward to get us ready for the NCAA Tournament."
Including the trip to Fort Worth, the Bulldogs will have traveled more than 12,000 miles already this season.
Gonzaga is 2-1 all-time against Virginia. The Cavaliers won the most recent meeting, 108-87, on Jan. 3, 2007 in Charlottesville, Va.
--Field Level Media
Updated December 24, 2020