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Notre Dame Looks To Solve Virginia Puzzle

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Senior guard Steve Vasturia and the Fighting Irish have lost four straight against Virginia, including a 77-66 defeat in Charlottesville last season.
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Since Notre Dame began playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference during the 2013-14 season, the Irish have at least one win against every team in the 15-team league.

Except Virginia.

The 14th-ranked Irish (17-3, 6-1 ACC) will look to snap that streak Tuesday night when they host the Cavaliers at Purcell Pavilion and attempt to stay in a three-way tie for first-place in the league.

No. 12 Virginia is again among the national leaders in almost every defensive category. The Cavaliers, who play a slow, methodical pace, are first in scoring defense (53.2 points allowed per game), 11th in field goal percentage defense (38.3) and 16th in three-point percentage defense (39.9).

In fact, the next closest team to Virginia in scoring defense is St. Mary’s at 57.8 points allowed per game.

“Excited for that one,” Notre Dame junior guard Matt Farrell said. “Really good team, really good defensive team. Should be exciting.”

Entering Saturday’s game against Syracuse, the Irish had not beaten the Orange since 2012. Notre Dame snapped that streak with an 84-66 victory at Purcell and is hoping to carry that momentum into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. game against Virginia (15-3, 5-2).

“It’s a huge one,” said senior wing V.J. Beachem, who had a career-high 30 points against Syracuse. “Me and Steve [Vasturia] have never beat Virginia, so that means nobody in here has beat Virginia. It’s going to be another great night, and we’ll have our students and our fans here and it should be a lot of fun.”

In the four losses to Virginia the past three seasons, Notre Dame shot a combined 40.7 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent on three-point attempts. One of the nation’s best teams at taking care of the ball, the Irish compiled 39 assists in those games compared to 40 turnovers.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is 0-5 against Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, including a 61-41 NCAA Tournament loss in 2008 when Bennett was at Washington State.

To get a non-conference look at UVA’s style, Brey scheduled a game against Saint Peter’s in late December, which Notre Dame won ugly (63-55).

“It will be a reference point game for us,” Brey said of playing against Saint Peter’s methodical style. “It’s hard to play when guarding 25 seconds every possession … and it affects you on offense. You had to grind through it.”

After knocking off Syracuse, Brey referenced the challenge that is Virginia’s defense.

“We have a very focused upperclass group that has had their butts beat by Virginia a bunch,” Brey said. “Our crowd will be great and we’ll be excited about the challenge.”

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