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Off the bench, Francisco Caffaro helps muscle UVa past rival Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech Virginia Basketball

Virginia center Francisco Caffaro (right) celebrates during the second half of Wednesday’s 54-52 win over rival Virginia Tech.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Armaan Franklin first started practicing with his new Virginia basketball teammates, he didn’t take an immediate liking to Francisco Caffaro, the Cavaliers’ burly and bruising redshirt junior center from Argentina.

“Me and him go at it a lot, sometimes, or we used to,” said Franklin, a transfer guard from Indiana. “He was very physical and I didn’t like it.”

Now, rival Virginia Tech knows the feeling.

The Cavaliers’ oft-maligned big man off the bench, undeniably more rugged than skilled, turned in his best game at UVa, putting up career highs with 16 points and nine rebounds, as Virginia fought past rival Virginia Tech for a 54-52 win on Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.

The Cavaliers (10-6, 4-2 ACC) outrebounded Tech 31-29, limited the Hokies to just two second-chance points, and forced 12 turnovers.

“Our guys, though not maybe perfect or pretty, that’s who we are,” said UVa coach Tony Bennett. “And they took a step in the right direction to be as rugged as they could be on both ends of the floor.”

UVa beat the Hokies (8-7, 0-4) for the fifth time in the last six meetings, despite a monster effort from Tech star forward Keve Aluma, who poured in a game-high 22 points. The Hokies fell to 0-4 in ACC play for the first time since the 2014-15 season, former coach Buzz Williams’s first year in Blacksburg.

And the 7-foot-1, 242-pound Caffaro was a big reason why.

“He’s a physical guy,” said Aluma. “Super strong.”

Saturday at North Carolina, there was nothing super about any of Virginia’s bigs, as the Tar Heels dominated in the paint, racking up offensive rebounds and second-chance points.

Caffaro said the coaching staff challenged him to change that Wednesday, if he got the chance. And after two early fouls on starting center Kadin Shedrick, Caffaro got that opportunity.

Despite having only scored in double figures once in his career — a 10-point game against North Carolina in 2019 — Caffaro went 5 for 7 from the floor and 6 for 10 from the free-throw line.

“I just try to keep encouraging him to stay after it,” said Bennett. “You can get after him and he’ll respond.”

Franklin, who brought a reputation as a lights-out shooter, continued to find other ways to score while in a shooting slump from the outside. He scored 15 despite going 1 for 4 from distance.

That, combined with Caffaro’s career night, helped buoy Virginia on a night when leading scorer Jayden Gardner was held to just four points.

Virginia was finally at home at John Paul Jones Arena, after playing its last three games on the road, a stretch that saw them go 2-1.

After Armando Bacot and North Carolina beat up on UVa in the paint on Saturday, the Hokies wasted no time going inside. On the game’s first possession, Aluma drew a foul from Shedrick and hit a pair of free throws.

Shedrick’s second foul came less than three minutes later, an offensive foul drawn by Tech guard Hunter Cattoor, a whistle that turned out to change the complexion of the game.

Virginia used a 10-0 run, fueled by the bench contributions of Caffaro and the scoring of Franklin, to open up a 17-9 lead midway through the first half.

Tech answered with a 7-0 spurt, driven by its defense, that saw them trim the UVa lead to 17-16 when no one from Virginia’s defense stopped the ball and Cattoor sank a straightaway 3 with 8:20 left before the break.

Virginia held that one basket lead, going to the locker room up 25-23.

The second half didn’t bring much more separation, and the two teams found themselves tied 42-42 with 7:47 to go.

Virginia went up 53-52 with 1:33 to play on a pair of free throws by Franklin. Tech got the ball back forcing a shot clock violation — normally UVa’s calling card — with 38 seconds to play, but Aluma slipped driving to the basket, traveled, and Virginia held off the Hokies.

As for Franklin, he’s come around when it comes to his opinion of Caffaro.

“I like the way he’s played throughout the season,” said Franklin. “He’s working on his finishing a lot and works on it every day. He just continues to work hard and I’m proud of him.”

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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CHARLOTTESVILLE – Virginia basketball has followed each of its losses this season with a bounce back victory. The Cavaliers will try to do that again, this time, on a short turnaround.

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