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Posted at 6:02 AM ET, 02/14/2011

Florida State 63, Virginia 56: Three up, three down

By Steve Yanda

Another game, another silent Virginia locker room following another close defeat. These Cavaliers don't have many specific answers as to why they struggle so mightily to put a complete game together, and their coach has begun to worry whether the message he keeps having to repeat -- You're fighting. You're getting close. -- is growing stale.

Virginia fell at Florida State, 63-56, on Saturday because it lost defensive focus for the latter part of the first half and it couldn't make enough three-pointers to make a complete comeback in the second.

Of the Cavaliers' seven ACC losses this season, five have come by seven or fewer points. They show glimpses of understanding coach Tony Bennett's pack-line defensive principles, and they show glimpses of offensive adeptness. But they have not demonstrated an ability, to this point, to sustain those glimpses for long periods of time.

It's not purely a youth thing, so let's not attribute this deficiency to Virginia's abundance of first-year players. This falls just as much on the shoulders of Mustapha Farrakhan and Assane Sene as it does on Joe Harris and K.T. Harrell.

This, it seems, is a leadership thing. Or, to be more accurate, a lack thereof. When the team starts off a game or a half well and then begins to slack off on defense or falter offensively, who is the Virginia player that will snap his teammates back into focus? That's not a rhetorical question. It's a legitimate query.

This team just doesn't possess too many vocal leaders. Farrakhan has said he's making a more concerted effort in that regard, but the results thus far have been unconvincing. Sammy Zeglinski appears to be more a leader by example than by speaking up. Same for Jontel Evans. There might be a vocal leader among the freshmen, but they seem too timid at this point to let their voices be heard in a commanding tone.

When senior forward Will Sherrill is out of commission (as he was Saturday due to a re-aggravated right leg injury), Virginia is a vehicle without a driver. Sherrill has a vocal presence, but his words carry only so far when he's dressed in street clothes or playing limited minutes.

Now, to be clear, Virginia's problems are not so simple that they can be solved by one player stepping forward to take the team by its figurative shirt collar and demand full-time attentiveness. But it would come in handy if someone would take the initiative and do just that.

With 9 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the first half Saturday, Virginia led, 19-15. Aside from Seminoles forward Chris Singleton, no Florida State player had found any offensive rhythm. In fact, Virginia had forced the Seminoles to commit eight turnovers in the game's first eight minutes.

Then Singleton left the game with a fracture in his right foot. And steadily, Virginia's command of the game slipped away. The Cavaliers scored four points the rest of the half. Meantime, Florida State scored 19 points and entered halftime with an 11-point lead.

"It was just, we had a little lapse in the first half," Zeglinski said in a hushed tone, "and it probably cost us the game."

Three Up:

1) Joe Harris. The freshman guard scored 15 of Virginia's 33 points in the second half. He finished with 17 points and a team-high seven rebounds. His second-half three-point shooting (4 for 6) went a long way toward pulling Virginia back into contention.

2) Sammy Zeglinski. Saturday marked the third straight game the junior guard had logged 30 or more minutes and the fourth straight game he'd scored 11 or more points. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 7 of 16 shooting, including 5 of 11 from beyond the arc, in 33 minutes.

3) Second half resiliency. Several players remarked after the game that Virginia's squad from last season would have folded under the same conditions that the Cavaliers faced Saturday. Virginia trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half, yet cut its deficit to three points with just more than one minute to play.

Three Down:

1) Temporary mental lapse. The final 10 minutes of the first half were a disaster for the Cavaliers in just about every way. The defense lost its focus, and Florida State capitalized. Consequently, Virginia lost confidence on the offensive end, and these guys need all the confidence they can get on offense. Take away those 10 minutes, and perhaps the Cavaliers come out on top. But such stretches have become a staple of Virginia's play this season in ACC play, and ideas to prevent such lapses are in short supply.

2) Mustapha Farrakhan. The team's leading scorer shot 3 for 15 from the field and 1 for 9 from three-point range Saturday. He scored seven points in 28 minutes and was not on the floor during a large portion of the stretch in the second half during which the Cavaliers mounted their comeback attempt. Farrakhan hasn't played that poorly on offense since Virginia's 60-47 loss to Iowa State on Dec. 30 when he shot 2 for 10 from the field and missed all four of his three-point attempts.

3) K.T. Harrell. The freshman guard appears to have slammed into some sort of figurative wall recently and has struggled to peel himself off. Since shooting 5 for 8 from the field and scoring 17 points during Virginia's 72-64 win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 22, Harrell has shot 24.2 percent from the field (8 for 33) in the Cavaliers' past five games. He shot 1 for 6 from the field Saturday, though that one make was a three-pointer late in the game when Virginia was clawing back into contention. Perhaps that shot will propel Harrell toward the offensive form he displayed during the first half of the season, when he was a consistent threat for the Cavaliers.

By Steve Yanda  | February 14, 2011; 6:02 AM ET
Categories:  Men's Basketball  
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Next: ACC releases 2011 Virginia football schedule

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