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Virginia 74, USC Upstate 54: Three up, three down

By Steve Yanda

For the second straight game, Virginia followed a sluggish start with a strong finish, which enabled the final margin of victory to turn out as it should have. But it's clear the Cavaliers are still a long ways from cohesive on the defensive end. And the current starting lineup doesn't appear to be operating very fluently on offense.

And so, on the heels of a 74-54 victory over South Carolina Upstate, Virginia will head west for a game Thursday night at Stanford before traveling across the Pacific Ocean to participate in the Maui Invitational next week.

USC Upstate did its best to spread out Virginia's defense, and unlike William & Mary -- which tried the same tactic -- the Spartans were able to hit some long-range shots to keep them in contention well into the second half. USC Upstate shot 43.5 percent from three-point range on the night, led by guard Tony Dukes, who made all five of his attempts from beyond the arc.

"We were a little bit dead in the beginning," senior forward Mike Scott said. "We allowed them to stay in the game."

Three Up:

1) Freshmen reserves. Virginia's starting lineup seemed a little stale Monday night, which might be at least a tad alarming considering this was just the second game of the season. But it seemed as though the Cavaliers played with considerably more life whenever freshmen guards Billy Baron and Joe Harris -- and even freshman forward Akil Mitchell -- were on the floor. Baron tallied 11 of his 14 points in the second half. Harris scored all eight of his points after halftime. Mitchell logged all 11 of his minutes after halftime and ended up with three points and four rebounds.

2) Second-half defense. It took them a while, but eventually the Cavaliers began to create more on-the-ball pressure against the Spartans. Before halftime, Virginia tallied one steal. After halftime, the Cavaliers talled five steals. In the first half, USC Upstate shot 50 percent from the field. In the second half, the Spartans shot 37.5 percent from the field. Not coincidentally, Virginia's lead grew from three at halftime to 20 at game's end.

3) Jontel Evans. The sophomore guard strikes me as a guy who is well aware of his limitations. He's not going to go out of his way to attempt shots, but if they're there, he's no longer hesitant to take them, either. He recorded the first double-digit scoring performance of his career Monday night when he scored 10 points against USC Upstate. It's a small step, but a significant step nonetheless in his offensive development.

Three Down:

1) First-half defense. We'll start with a quote from Coach Tony Bennett: "I thought they could get whatever they wanted on us in the first half. We were very easy to score against." Bennett said the Cavaliers were lured into spreading out along the perimeter, at which point the Spartans either would shoot three-pointers or drive into the lane off of guard screens. USC Upstate was the second opponent to use that approach against Virginia in as many games, and it has been fairly effective at causing defensive breakdowns each time. The pack-line defense is reliant upon players remaining compact in a given area. The Cavaliers have not adhered to that staple thus far.

2) Assane Sene. Bennett promised Sene after Monday night's game that the 7-foot-0 center would not always have to defend 25 feet away from the basket. And while that certainly will help Sene's cause, it might not be enough to keep him from being a defensive liability. He failed to grab a rebound and committed three fouls in 13 minutes Monday. On offense, he tallied two points and two turnovers.

3) Slow starts. This goes hand-in-hand with point No. 1 in this section, but it wasn't just the slow start on defense that got Virginia into trouble against what should be a vastly inferior opponent. The offense was stagnant at the outset, and then it became too fixated on trying to force the ball inside to Scott, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four turnovers. This is only the second game, of course, but each has been marked by lackadaisical play in the first half. It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers play at the start of Thursday night's game at Stanford. If it's a repeat performance of tonight, Virginia will have a much tougher time staying above water.

By Steve Yanda  | November 15, 2010; 11:19 PM ET
Categories:  Men's Basketball  
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Next: Scouting Stanford

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