CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Kihei Clark may never top his biggest highlight in Virginia basketball lore, but having the 5-foot-10 point guard in the No. 10 Cavaliers' lineup could certainly give him another chance.
In 2019, during an Elite Eight battle with Purdue, the then-freshman chased down a tapped-out missed free throw well past the midcourt line, wheeled around and fed Mamadi Diakite for a buzzer-beating jumper that sent the game into overtime. The Cavaliers won, then went on to earn the first national championship in program history.
“The Shot” was only possible because of “The Pass.”
Now in his fifth season, Clark is taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility to climb several of Virginia’s career lists and possibly lead them on another deep tournament run. He'll continue that pursuit on Saturday when the Cavaliers (14-3, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) play at Wake Forest (14-5, 6-2).
Clark on Wednesday moved to the top of the Cavaliers’ career victories list for players with 111, one more than Diakite. His 65 ACC wins are also the most in program history.
Those milestones, and others, almost didn’t happen. After last season, Clark posted a farewell message to Virginia fans on Twitter, then changed his mind.
With Reece Beekman seemingly poised to take over the lead role in the Cavaliers' backcourt, coach Tony Bennett knows Clark's value.
“A guy his size doesn’t get to where he is without having a fierce side of him, a competitor, and he wants to win. And that’s what he’s done most of his career but he’s still coachable," Bennett said. “It’s good to have him back for sure. I’m glad he made that decision.”
Bennett often uses bigger guards to play in the high post, though he'll use Clark there, too, and gives him lots of playmaking freedom.
“You sometimes want some of your better decision-makers or guards in that high post … I thought he had a real nice game," Bennett said after winning at Georgia Tech 74-56.
"He had command of his game. Sometimes you watch somebody and they have command of their game, and he just had it when he was in the lane, the decisions he was making,” Bennett said.
Virginia Tech's Mike Young saw it firsthand in a 78-68 loss on Wednesday night.
“He’s waiting on you,” Young said, recalling several passes Clark made in the lane on his way to a season-high 20 points and five assists. “He is waiting for somebody to blink.”
Young will face Clark one more time when Virginia goes to Blacksburg. Other coaches have used the postgame handshake lines to share their admiration.
“I told him last year after we played him in Harrisonburg, I told him he’s one of my favorite players to watch in college, and I thought that was the goodbye. And then sure enough, he comes back this year," said James Madison coach Mark Byington after Virginia's win this year in which Clark had 18 points and seven assists. "So I told him this time ... ‘Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’"
Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton said after getting beat 62-57 that Clark is “almost flawless as a point guard ... and he’s one of those guys that don’t come along very often.”
“I told him as I shook his hand, ‘I’ll be glad when you go.'" Hamilton said. “He smiled.”
Clark has appreciated the kind words.
“Obviously, you’re doing something right if they don’t want to play against you,” he said.
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