CHARLOTTESVILLE — Pittsburgh’s Justin Champagnie, the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder, recorded his league-best ninth double-double Saturday. But, man, did Virginia make him earn it.
Check that. Sam Hauser made him earn it.
The box score headlines Hauser’s game-high 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting, and certainly the Cavaliers would have been cornered without his offense. But on an afternoon when UVA coach Tony Bennett assessed his team’s defense as “poor,” Hauser was an exception, leading No. 14 Virginia to a 73-66 victory.
And that’s how his season has been trending. Torched by Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert the day after Christmas — to be fair, all the Cavaliers were torched by the Zags — Hauser has progressed steadily as a defender.
His offense was never a question. He arrived from Marquette as a proven scorer and shooter — there’s a difference — and sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules learning Bennett’s exacting defensive principles. But as Hauser discovered, transferring those lessons to competition takes time.
Hauser was a curious choice by UVA’s coaches to shadow the 6-foot-6 Champagnie, who began the day averaging 19.3 points and 12.2 rebounds. They could have opted for Trey Murphy or Reece Beekman, long, athletic wings who have distinguished themselves as defenders this season.
But the 6-8 Hauser drew the assignment almost from the opening tip, and though Champagnie finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, he missed 10 of 18 shots and only earned two free throws.
“Sam was the difference in this game,” Bennett said, “with his offense and his defense. ... I thought he was really good being, we call it, a wall on wheels. That part I was really pleased with.”
That’s the perfect description for how Hauser checked Champagnie.
Three times during the early stages of the second half, Champagnie backed down Hauser from the left wing to the low block, slowly, methodically dribbling with his back to Hauser. Each time, Hauser met muscle with muscle, his chest pressed against Champagnie, his legs yielding mere inches.
Each time, Champagnie’s shot missed.
With UVA nursing a 64-53 lead inside of four minutes, Champagnie posted up Beekman. Hauser rushed to double-team, hurrying Champagnie into a miss that Hauser rebounded.
Hauser pressured Champagnie into a final miss in the waning moments, and Champagnie didn’t secure his double-double until he dunked an offensive rebound with 19 seconds remaining.
Teams are “being way more physical [with Champagnie], and double-teaming him,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel III said.
Out of necessity. Champagnie is the first ACC player since N.C. State’s Tommy Burleson in 1971-72 to have consecutive games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. Oh, and he did it immediately upon returning from a knee injury that shelved him for a month.
Moreover, he is on pace to become the first Panther to average at least 18 points and 10 rebounds since Billy Knight in 1973-74. But he’s not even the family’s highest scorer.
Champagnie’s twin, 6-8 Julian, entered Saturday averaging 19.5 points per game for St. John’s.
As you’d expect from the nation’s premier defensive program, Virginia has a history of smothering the ACC’s leading scorer. Indeed, in Bennett’s previous 11 seasons, only four of the conference’s eventual top scorers made at least half of his shots in a game against the Cavaliers: Duke’s RJ Barrett, Marvin Bagley and Nolan Smith, and Virginia Tech’s Erick Green.
Among UVA’s most notable shutdowns: Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin shot 12 of 41 combined in two 2013 games; two years later, N.C. State’s T.J. Warren went 1 for 9 and scored four points, and in two games last season Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes shot 11 of 34.
Hauser’s defense Saturday wasn’t at that level, but it was as rugged as his offense was effortless. His back-to-back 3-pointers, both assisted by Kihei Clark, capped a 16-0 binge that gave the Cavaliers (13-3, 9-1 ACC) a 52-36 lead.
A rash of Virginia turnovers allowed Pitt (9-6, 5-5) to counter, but Hauser and Tomas Woldetensae (14 points on 4-of-5 shooting beyond the arc) scored enough late to keep the Cavaliers ahead of second-place Florida State (10-3, 6-2) in the loss column.
“I think it’s a good representation,” Hauser said of his defense Saturday. “I’ve worked hard at it. Obviously, there’s still some improvement to be had. I think I played pretty solid tonight. I made [Champagnie] work for his shots. He’s a great player. Hats off to him. He still had a really good game with a double-double. I just tried to make it as difficult as I could for him.”