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Posted at 6:01 AM ET, 02/28/2011

Boston College 63, Virginia 44: Three up, three down

By Steve Yanda

By this point in the season, Virginia followers have seen their team suffer from a wide variety of flaws, but until Saturday effort had been one of the few positive traits that one could consistently expect from the Cavaliers.

Then Virginia rolled over against a Boston College squad that, frankly, didn’t play very well for nearly half the game.

Virginia lost, 63-44, and while the 19-point margin of defeat was the Cavaliers’ second worst of the season in ACC play, it seemed even worse than Virginia’s 24-point loss to Maryland back on Jan. 27 because on Saturday the home team simply didn’t show any of the resiliency it had prided itself on in recent weeks.

There remain two games on Virginia’s regular season slate, and the Cavaliers are guaranteed at least one contest in the ACC tournament. And so even at the tail end of a season in which Virginia stands at .500 overall and will not finish even as well in conference play, the Cavaliers have reached one last critical juncture: Will they go in the tank, or will they respond?

As Virginia enters into what will be a crucial offseason for many players, not to mention coach Tony Bennett, the answer to that question is more important than you might think.

Three Up:

1) Joe Harris’s rebounding. Due to the many frontcourt injuries Virginia has endured, the Cavaliers have operated the backstretch of the conference season primarily out of a four-guard lineup. And that has meant that Harris – who is averaging 36.2 minutes per game in the past six contests – has had to shoulder a heavier load on the boards. The freshman guard has averaged a team-high 6.8 rebounds during that same six-game span. On Saturday, Harris grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds, including five offensive boards. His rebounding was one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise putrid effort by the Cavaliers.

2) Assane Sene. Sure, Bennett likely would have preferred that Sene grab more than four rebounds, like he did Saturday. But Sene continued to display his offensive improvement, making all four of his field goal attempts and tying for the team-high in points with 10. Sene’s hands have improved over the course of the season, which bodes well for the 7-foot center and for the Cavaliers entering Sene’s senior year.

3) K.T. Harrell. The freshman guard has been in a monster shooting slump of late. In the eight games prior to Saturday’s contest, Harrell had shot 26.1 percent (12 for 46) from the field. He was removed from the starting lineup and his playing time during that span – 19.4 minutes per game – decreased, as well. Harrell had been averaging 23.4 minutes per game on the season. But on Saturday, Harrell showed slight offensive improvement. He shot 2 for 5 from the field and finished with six points, two rebounds, an assist and a turnover in 22 minutes off the bench.

Three Down:

1) Effort. Virginia held a seven-point lead with two minutes, 20 seconds remaining in the first half. The Cavaliers trailed by three at the break. Their defense, which had been merely average during the first 17 minutes of the first half, disintegrated. And their offense, well, if you’ve been paying attention at all this season, you know the Cavaliers weren’t able to rely on that component to bail them out. Virginia had won two straight games entering Saturday and had played well defensively in its most recent loss – a 56-41 defeat to then-No. 5 Duke on Feb. 16. There was talk of finishing out the season strong and possibly earning a berth in the NIT. In other words, in an unconventional sense, there was a decent amount on the line for the Cavaliers against Boston College, and they simply didn’t show up.

“We've had games like this before where we haven't been able to hit the shots or have enough guys scoring, but this was one of the first games where I felt like we really got outplayed defensively,” Bennett said. “It was 28-21. It kind of came easy early for us, but then from that point on our defense really let us down.”

2) Defensive communication. We’ve discussed this before, but it popped up again Saturday: With senior forward Will Sherrill limited due to his right leg injury, there is no other vocal leader on this team that is willing and able to step forward and pull the players together in necessary situations. Bennett and several players decried the team’s lack of defensive communication Saturday, but that seems like it would have been a fairly easy issue to identify and correct mid-game. Still, the issue did not get addressed, and so the Cavaliers continued to suffer from it throughout what became an embarrassing performance.

“I don't know what it was, really; I don't know,” Harris said. “We really didn't have anybody step up and say, 'We need to start talking,' and that kind of thing. I don't know. I mean, the blame can go on anybody you want to say that. I mean, even the freshmen, we can step up and say something. It doesn't have to be the upperclassmen to be leaders. But we kind of lacked that today. We didn't have anybody step up and talk about how we needed to start communicating and work the ball and that kind of stuff.”

3) Shooting. Virginia was outscored, 26-4, during a span of 11 minutes, 19 seconds that extended from the end of the first half into the second. The Cavaliers shot 37.9 percent from the field in the first half and 25 percent in the second. They shot 4 for 21 (19 percent) from three-point range on the day. The team’s three most reliable scorers – Mustapha Farrakhan, Joe Harris and Sammy Zeglinski – shot a combined 23.3 percent (7 for 30) from the field. Add in Jontel Evans’s 1 for 8 shooting performance, and four of Virginia’s five starters combined to shoot 21 percent from the field Saturday. Even if the Cavaliers’ defense had been solid, it likely wouldn’t have been enough to overcome a shooting performance that dismal.

By Steve Yanda  | February 28, 2011; 6:01 AM ET
Categories:  Men's Basketball  
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