A stunning loss to Virginia Tech in early January was the first indicator Virginia wasn't playing its best basketball.
The Cavaliers sure are now.
Back in the thick of the ACC race, the No. 7 Cavaliers should have a little additional incentive to extend its winning streak in Tuesday night's rematch between the intrastate rivals.
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The Cavaliers' hopes for a third consecutive ACC regular-season title seemed in peril after three losses in a four-game stretch dropped them to 2-3 in league play on Jan. 17. None was more surprising than the 70-68 Jan. 4 road defeat to the Hokies, last in the conference in each of the previous three seasons.
Virginia (19-4, 8-3 ACC) has certainly restored order since, ripping off six consecutive victories and re-establishing its defensive dominance in the last three. The Cavaliers have yielded 50 points or less in wins over then-No. 16 Louisville, Boston College and Pittsburgh, holding the Panthers to 2 of 13 from 3-point range in Saturday's 64-50 win and the Eagles to 26.5 percent overall in Wednesday's 61-47 victory.
“We've come a long way,'' guard Malcolm Brogdon said. ''We've turned a new leaf. We're just trying to build our momentum.''
That defensive efficiency wasn't present when Virginia Tech (13-11, 5-6) ended a seven-game series skid. The Hokies shot 47.1 percent and finished 9 of 17 from 3 in last month's matchup, with Zach LeDay recording 18 of his 22 points in the second half and sealing the upset by blocking London Perrantes' layup in the final seconds.
The Hokies haven't quite been able to build on that signature win under second-year coach Buzz Williams, having lost six of nine since. They've remained competitive, though, with eight of their 11 league games decided by five points or less or in overtime.
Another tight finish ensued Sunday against Clemson, in which LeDay had 19 points and sealed a 60-57 win by going 5 of 6 from the foul line in the final 29 seconds.
''I told them, `We're teetering on the threshold of: Do you want to go this way or this way?''' Williams said. “To an extent, because we're still in the infancy of what we're doing, this will be character-revealed game of our program and our culture. I thought that it was.
“It was another one-possession game. It was just another game that we were up and then it becomes a tie game and you have to play it out.''
Virginia Tech will be tested again in a visit to John Paul Jones Arena, where the Cavaliers have won 16 straight overall and 37 in a row against unranked teams since losing to Iowa in the 2013 NIT quarterfinals.
The Hokies have averaged 52.3 points and shot 35.5 percent in losing three straight in Charlottesville, and they've shot just 38.6 percent in consecutive 60-point efforts against Syracuse and Clemson. Virginia is 17-0 when surrendering 66 or less.
Virginia has been proficient offensively as well during the streak, hitting 44.9 percent of its 3-point attempts. Brogdon, averaging 21.7 points and shooting 55.2 percent from beyond the arc over the stretch, followed a 27-point effort against Boston College with 21 on 6-of-9 shooting against Pittsburgh.
“We're getting him good looks and he's making good decisions,” coach Tony Bennett said. “He's shooting the ball well and letting it come. He's playing at a high level, for sure.”