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Posted at 6:07 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Wake Forest 76, Virginia 71: Three up, three down

By Steve Yanda

We can discuss Virginia's many current deficiencies to no end, but the simple truth is that right now the Cavaliers are 2-5 in conference play because they don't possess enough depth or collective maturity to finish out a tightly contested ACC game.

Virginia secured an impressive 57-54 win Dec. 5 at Virginia Tech, but back then, the Cavaliers had senior forward Mike Scott* at their disposal. Scott tallied 21 points and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes that night. He was one of eight Virginia players to log 14 or more minutes against the Hokies.

* Scott has missed 11 of Virginia's past 12 games and underwent season-ending surgery on his left ankle Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.

During Saturday's 76-71 loss at Wake Forest, six Virginia players logged more than seven minutes. Three of them have less than two full seasons of collegiate experience. Two others had never averaged more than 20 minutes per game in ACC play prior to this season.

By neccessity, Coach Tony Bennett is having to rely heavily on a constricted number of players, nearly all of whom never have faced such significant roles and responsibilities at this stage (Division I college basketball) in their careers.

The Cavaliers lost Saturday to a team that previously had yet to win an ACC game this season in a game in which Virginia held a 10-point second half lead. Afterward, Bennett and players attributed the collapse to a multitude of defensive breakdowns, but the central issue might be broader and more sophisticated than that.

"I think it’s all about a mind-set," freshman guard K.T. Harrell said. "We have to get the mind-set of, if we’re up, it doesn’t matter. We can’t just slack off, thinking that we’re going to pull it off offensively. We’ve got to understand that it’s going to take defense in order to finish out the second half."

These are nice sentiments, and totally true for this squad. But they've previously been uttered this season. The most daunting task facing Bennett and the Cavaliers at this point: Find a way to get the players to absorb the message.

Three Up:

1) Assane Sene. The 7-foot junior center grabbed 13 rebounds Saturday. The five other Cavaliers who played more than seven minutes tallied a combined 14 boards. Sene is averaging 9.7 rebounds per game in Virginia's past six contests. Against Wake Forest, Sene also finished with a season-high 15 points to record his first career double-double. Sure, he missed 5 of 8 free throws and another couple of close range shots. But for the most part, Sene took the opportunities afforded him by the Demon Deacons defense and played a large role in keeping Virginia in contention down the stretch.

2) Shooting touch. Less than 48 hours after shooting 33.3 percent from the field against Maryland, Virginia shot 50 percent from the field at Wake Forest. The Cavaliers also made 8 of 20 three-point attempts. Harrell and junior guard Sammy Zeglinski combined to shoot 5 for 8 from beyond the arc.

3) Sammy Zeglinski. For the first time this season, Zeglinski has logged 20 or more minutes in four consecutive games. This is significant for a player who sat out the first seven games of the season after undergoing preseason knee surgery. On Saturday, Zeglinski shot 4 for 8 from the field and finished with 11 points, four assists, three rebounds and zero turnovers in 24 minutes. He might not be back to full health quite yet, but he's getting close.

Three Down:

1) Second-half defense. Here's the abridged version of the defensive breakdowns that occured in the second half, according to Bennett: miscommunication, transition miscues, not blocking out, giving up straight-line drives to the basket, letting an opponent post up too easily. He listed others during his postgame press conference, but you get the gist. Wake Forest shot 56 percent from the field and scored 44 points after the break. Virginia, mind you, had managed to score just 42 points during the entirety of its 24-point loss Thursday to Maryland.

Virginia is allowing an average of 5.2 more points in the second half than it is in the first half this season. In ACC play, the Cavaliers are allowing (on average) nearly 10 more points in the second half (38.3) than they are in the first (28.6). Virginia has held second-half leads in six of its seven conference games thus far and held on to win twice.

2) Points off turnovers. Wake Forest turned 11 Virginia turnovers into 20 points. That came one game after Maryland turned 15 Virginia turnovers into 17 points. After Saturday's loss, Bennett called that stat "crucial." The Cavaliers don't turn the ball over much (11.2 tpg), but they pay dearly for it when they do. For comparison's sake, note that Virginia turned nine Wake Forest turnovers into 10 points and that the Cavaliers turned 11 Maryland turnovers into six points.

3) Free throws. It wasn't just that Virginia made just 50 percent of its free throw attempts; it was that the Cavaliers attempted only 14 shots from the charity stripe. Meantime, they attempted 20 three-pointers. Virginia needs to be able to rely on at least one of its guards to drive into the lane and get fouled en route to the basket, especially in the second half. Sene missed 5 of his 8 free throw attempts, but he was the only Virginia player to attempt more than three free throws against Wake Forest. That's just not going to cut it. Senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan went 2 for 3. Freshman guard Joe Harris went 2 for 2. Those are the team's top two free throw shooters. They've got to do a better job of finding a way to the free throw line late in games. Wake Forest made 19 of 21 free throw attempts Saturday, including 14 of 14 in the second half.

By Steve Yanda  | January 31, 2011; 6:07 AM ET
Categories:  Men's Basketball  
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Next: Tony Bennett: Mike Scott doing well following ankle surgery Sunday

Comments

Good analysis, as usual, but regarding the comment that we need to have guards that can drive to the basket and get fouled:
Joe Harris did a great job driving and scoring this past game, it's just that he didn't get fouled doing it. I hope he can keep up that agressive play.

Posted by: maxf1 | January 31, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

This loss and the BC loss took all of the air out of the season. Cavs should have won both handily, but now at 2-5 the wheels are close to coming off. Steve, do you think Bennett will try to get the bench more involved from here on out? Seems like Mitchell and Regan could help out on the front court a little more - they've been used sparingly. With the intense brand of defense Bennett runs, it looks like the starting five just run out of gas at the end of games... spelling them more with backups might help the team finish stronger down the stretch. I know those guys are still a little raw, but when do you start investing in them for next year?

Posted by: 2kHoo | January 31, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

The problem with Yanada's premise about UVA's experience being a primary factor in the loss to Wake Forest is Wake is less experienced than UVA.

If you write for a major national paper, you should know such facts or at least do the two minutes of homework it would take to learn them.

Posted by: rjkarl | January 31, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

rjkarl,

Yanda never claims the sole reason UVA lost was because they are LESS experienced than Wake Forest. Rather, he is more broadly stating that UVA's lack of experience is likely (hopefully) the reason they haven't been able to close-out most of their ACC games after having (occasionally double-digit) 2nd half leads: UNC, Duke, BC, and now Wake.

I'm assuming by "Wake is less experienced than UVA" you are pointing to the fact that Wake gave more playing time to its freshman in the game. However, please take note that UVA has 7 freshman on a roster of 13 (54%), while Wake only has 5 on a roster of 14 (36%). (According to ESPN.)

Both teams are certainly hurting in the experience department, and that's likely why they're currently sitting in the bottom of the ACC.

Posted by: grudoubleb | January 31, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

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