No. 2 Virginia can strengthen hold on ACC during soft stretch

Under coach Tony Bennett, Virginia is off to its best start in 34 seasons.

Geoff Burke/Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After surviving one of its biggest tests, Virginia would appear to catch a break with lackluster opponents in the next four games.

The second-ranked Cavaliers will try to avoid a letdown and improve to 4-0 in the ACC for the first time since 1994-95 on Tuesday night against visiting Clemson.

Virginia (15-0) added to its best start in 34 seasons with a 62-56 win at then-No. 13 Notre Dame on Saturday. The Cavaliers, one of two unbeaten teams along with No. 1 Kentucky, trailed by eight points early in the second half and didn’t pull away for good until a late 9-0 run.

Darion Atkins led the way with a season-high 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds.

"We had to hang in there, make some big shots, get some key stops against a team that can go on spurts," coach Tony Bennett said. "That was a good win for us."

Virginia’s next four opponents are a combined 1-10 in the ACC and 33-26 overall. That gives the Cavaliers a prime opportunity to remain unbeaten before a home game against No. 4 Duke on Jan. 31.

First, they’ll try to accomplish a feat that eluded them in 2013-14. Virginia won its first three ACC games before falling 69-65 at No. 23 Duke last Jan. 13.

The Cavaliers might have a better chance against a team they’ve beaten four consecutive times in Charlottesville and in 42 of 58 all-time visits. They routed Clemson 78-41 in the latest home meeting Feb. 7, 2013, then beat the Tigers 63-58 on Feb. 15 in South Carolina in last season’s matchup.

Clemson (9-6, 1-2) is coming off its first league win, 71-62 at Pittsburgh on Saturday, and is set to face a third ranked opponent in four conference games. The Tigers shot a combined 29.5 percent in their first two ACC contests and were blown out 74-50 by then-No. 19 North Carolina on Jan. 3 in their league opener.

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Clemson, though, played then-No. 5 Louisville close in a 58-52 road defeat Wednesday. The Tigers are last in the 15-team ACC with 64.7 points per game and 14th with 42.0 percent shooting, and will now face one of the nation’s stingiest defenses.

Virginia is allowing an average of 51.1 points and 33.7 percent shooting, and it’s held 36 consecutive ACC opponents to less than 50.0 percent. Clemson was the last team to top that mark, shooting 51.5 percent in a 59-44 home victory Jan. 12, 2013.

"We’re going to have to play special to win," coach Brad Brownell said.

The Tigers could use another strong performance from Jaron Blossomgame, who leads the team with 14.0 points per game. The sophomore forward had 18 points — second-most in his career — at Pitt and is averaging 17.6 and shooting 62.5 percent in his last five games.

Clemson hasn’t won a road game against a team ranked No. 2 or higher since beating Maryland 82-77 on Jan. 21, 1976. Virginia has won 19 in a row at home — all but one by double digits — and 22 straight against unranked visitors.