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Posted at 6:02 AM ET, 01/17/2011

No. 1 Duke 76, Virginia 60: Three up, three down

By Steve Yanda

Youth has and will continue to be an acceptable explanation for many of the Virginia men's basketball team's shortcomings this season. For instance, following the Cavaliers' 76-60 loss Saturday at No. 1 Duke, several Virginia players said the team simply didn't stay as focused on defense for the full 40 minutes. Against one of the top teams in the country, that's an absolute necessity if you hope to have a chance to steal a win.

Virginia held a nine-point lead with just more than 16 minutes to play. The Cavaliers lost by 16.

Freshman guard K.T. Harrell played 26 minutes. Freshman guard Joe Harris played 28 minutes. Freshman forward Akil Mitchell played 22 minutes. Sophomore guard Jontel Evans played 34 minutes. Of the eight Virginia players who logged at least 14 minutes Saturday, four had less than two years of collegiate experience. So, okay, maybe they haven't developed a full appreciation for the necessity of 40-minute defense --especially in Tony Bennett's system -- quite yet.

But Duke wasn't exactly playing a stifling brand of defense, and still, the Cavaliers managed just 60 points. Neither senior forward Will Sherrill (leg) nor junior guard Sammy Zeglinski (knee) look completely healthy yet. Junior center Assane Sene and Mitchell are foul prone, which is significant considering senior forward Mike Scott's season-ending ankle injury has left Virginia with sufficient frontcourt depth.

The players' defensive mind-set, it seems, is just one of the many issues that need to be addressed moving forward.

Three Up:

1) Composure (for the first 30 minutes or so). This was the first time playing in an environment like Cameron Indoor Stadium for many Virginia players, and at the outset, they didn't seem rattled or distracted by it at all. That might have been due in large part to ...

2) Defense (for the first 30 minutes or so). In the first half, Duke shot 34.5 percent from the field and made just 1 of 12 three-point attempts. Blue Devils forward Kyle Singler, a preseason first team all-America, produced a very quiet 13 points and four rebounds. The Cavaliers had four players -- senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan, Harrell, Harris and Mitchell -- alternate defending Singler, and they performed that task well for the most part. Virginia forced Duke to commit 15 turnovers on the night and turned those miscues into 16 points.

3) First-half three-point shooting. One of the reasons Virginia entered halftime with a six-point lead was hot shooting from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers made 5 of 9 three-point attempts before the break. Farrakhan made all three of his first-half three-pointers. Harris shot 2 for 3 from beyond the arc before the break.

Three Down:

1) The last 10 minutes or so. Bennett said afterward that Duke very steadily had chipped away throughout the second half at the advantages the Cavaliers previously had held over the Blue Devils. And by the time the home stretch came around, matters were deteriorating rapidly for Bennett's squad. Duke found its collective stroke from three-point range. Sene and Mitchell were in foul trouble, which limited how effective Virginia could be on the boards. Turnovers were coming in bunches for the Cavaliers. And their shots went cold. What started with a bout of sloppy defense devolved into a complete implosion.

2) Frontcourt foul trouble. This is going to be a critical issue for Virginia in the coming months. Without Scott, who was averaging 10.2 rebounds per game, the Cavaliers need all the help they can get on the boards. And while Sene is an offensive liability most of the time, he has done a solid job of making his presence felt on the glass. Under Virginia's current circumstances, that makes him more than marginally valuable. The Cavaliers need Sene in the game for more than the 20 minutes he played Saturday, for his interior defense and rebounding ability if nothing else. But Sene hasn't been able to play much more than that very often -- he is averaging 17.3 minutes per game -- in large part because he always seems to be in foul trouble. He is averaging 2.8 fouls per game, which leads the team by a considerable margin. At 7-feet tall, Sene draws a lot of attention on the court, so it's not as easy for him to get away with stuff as it might be for other, more conspicuous players. But the Cavaliers have got to find a way to keep him from wracking up so many fouls if they're going to be able to compete on the boards with ACC foes the rest of the way.

3) First-half free throw shooting. As was previously mentioned, Virginia entered halftime with a six-point lead, but it probably should have been larger than that. The Cavaliers shot 4 for 9 from the charity stripe before the intermission. That's a killer. Not saying Virginia would have won the game had it made two or three more free throws in the first half, but every little bit helps when you're a team holding an early lead on the road against a more talent-laden opponent. Harrell missed all three of his free throw attempts before the break. Zeglinski and Farrakhan each made 1 of 2. Sene made both of his in the first half. The Cavaliers responded to make 12 of 14 free throws in the second half, but most of those came after Duke had retaken the lead.

By Steve Yanda  | January 17, 2011; 6:02 AM ET
Categories:  Men's Basketball  
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