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Posted at 6:05 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Virginia 72, Georgia Tech 64: Three up, three down

By Steve Yanda

Virginia did exactly what it was supposed to do Saturday during a 72-64 win over an uninspired Georgia Tech squad. For those of you who didn't watch the game live, let me assure you the game was not as close as the final score would indicate.

The Yellow Jackets never led and trailed by 10 or fewer points in the second half for only the final 25 seconds. Virginia led by as many as 18 points.

Regardless, the Cavaliers needed this win to snap a three-game conference skid and to keep from spiraling downward following the loss of senior forward Mike Scott (ankle) for the remainder of the season.

Without Scott at his disposal, Coach Tony Bennett appears prepared to venture through the rest of the ACC slate relying heavily on his team's host of perimeter players. Virginia started four guards Saturday and played with such a lineup for nearly the entire afternoon.

The Cavaliers operate at a quicker tempo and are more offense-oriented with four guards on the floor. Given the current makeup of their roster, using a four-guard look might be their best bet for the rest of the ACC slate.

"Mike who?" Bennett said in jest following Saturday's win. "Absolutely we miss Mike, the way he can rebound and get points in there. But there’s no other option but to adjust, and I think the guys have done a better job of finding alternate ways to get baskets, to get paint touches, and then the rebounding thing, that’s guards coming back and rebounding at a better clip. Just being as scrappy as we can. We have to be a little more unconventional without Mike, and I think the guys so far have adjusted. A lot depends on how the other team plays you."

Three Up:

1) Joe Harris. If Virginia continues to throw heavy doses of four-guard lineups at opposing teams, no Cavalier's role will alter more drastically than that of Harris. The 6-foot-6 freshman guard started for the first time in five games Saturday and lineup up primarily against whoever Georgia Tech was having playing the power forward position. Fortunately for Harris and the Cavaliers, Georgia Tech's usual starting power forward, 6-foot-8 Kammeon Hosley, was out with a stomach flu. But moving forward, Harris likely will be asked to defend players bigger and stronger than he. It certainly will be a challenge for him on the defensive end and on the boards. But against the Yellow Jackets, Harris performed well in his new role. He tallied 11 points and a team-high eight rebounds in 32 minutes.

2) Mustapha Farrakhan. The senior guard has done his best to pick up the scoring slack created by Scott's absence in the Virginia lineup. In the past six games, Farrakhan has averaged 17.5 ppg and has shot 55.2 percent (16 for 29) from three-point range. He also has been the Cavaliers' most frequent visitor to the charity stripe this season and has made 81.8 percent of his free throw attempts. He registered a team-high 23 points and five assists against Georgia Tech. Virginia will need Farrakhan -- the team's lone fully healthy senior -- to continue to be offensively prodigious as it endures the inconsistencies of its other, younger players.

3) Three-point shooting. When the Cavaliers find their shooting touch, they're pretty tough to beat. But as many Virginia followers know, the Cavaliers are not always as hot from beyond the three-point arc as they were Saturday when they made 66.7 percent (10 for 15) of their long-range shots. In fact, they have a tendency to go very, very, very cold from time to time. Bennett has remarked before that the team seems to be completely unified in its shooting efforts. When one is hot, they're all hot. And vice versa. Against Georgia Tech, four Virginia players attempted three-pointers. Farrakhan shot 2 for 4. Harris shot 3 for 5. Freshman guard K.T. Harrell shot 3 for 4. Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski shot 2 for 2. One was hot, and so the rest followed.

Three Down:

1) Homestretch sloppiness. As was previously mentioned, Virginia controlled the proceedings the entire afternoon. But the Cavaliers -- who had held second-half leads in each of their previous three ACC games, all of which ended in defeat -- allowed their focus to wane in the closing minutes against Georgia Tech. What was an 18-point lead with just less than three minutes to play was cut to an eight-point lead at the final whistle. Part of that was Virginia not looking to score in the final minute out of respect for its opponent (see: Will Sherrill's final turnover). But part of that also was a collective easing up by the Cavaliers when it was all but assured that victory was in hand.

2) Free-throw shooting. Virginia made 8 of 11 free throws (72.7 percent) in the first half, which is essentially what the Cavaliers have been shooting from the charity stripe all season (71.3 percent). But in the second half, Virginia shot 66.7 percent (14 for 21) from the free throw line. Had the game been closer, those missed free throws would have hurt big time.

3) Jontel Evans. In fairness to Evans, his decision-making was improved Saturday from what it had been Wednesday during Virginia's loss at Boston College. He tallied five assists and two turnovers against the Yellow Jackets. But Evans's shooting struggles continued. He missed all three of the shots he attempted from the field against Georgia Tech and also missed 3 of 6 free throws. He is shooting 20 percent (5 for 25) from the field in Virginia's past three games. Evans can drive to the basket about as quickly as anyone in the ACC, which makes his recent misses (many of which have been from very close range) all the more alarming. He's not a strong shooter (37.7 percent from the field on the season), so Virginia needs him to be a scoring threat when he penetrates into the lane. They also need him to make prudent decisions on when to finish a drive with a shot and when to dish the ball out to one of his teammates along the perimeter.

By Steve Yanda  | January 24, 2011; 6:05 AM ET
Categories:  Men's Basketball  
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Next: For Jontel Evans, immediate challenge lies in maintaining focus


Agree on the homestretch sloppiness. This team is still learning how to maintain a lead after building one. On the positive side, they didn't squander their leads early in the second half as they did versus UNC and Duke. They continued to play hard and build their lead, at least until they'd put the game out of reach for GT.

When they were down by just a few points to Boston College at halftime last week, I thought, hey, maybe this is a good sign. They won't relax in the second half. And they fought in the second half of that game. But again, with a few minutes left to play, things started to fall apart for them and BC pulled away.

I expect the let-up to wane as the season wears on and these guys mature, and in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it gets better rapidly at some point, instead of being a gradual process. A lot of times, the light bulb just finally comes on.

Posted by: freakzilla | January 24, 2011 11:47 AM | Report abuse

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