Cava­liers suf­fer de­fen­sive letdown again

Vir­ginia fails to stop Wake For­est, which wins its first ACC game

The Washington Post Sunday - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL - BY STEVE YANDA yan­das@wash­post.com

win­ston-salem, n.c. — The rea­son why Vir­ginia be­came Wake For­est’s first ACC vic­tim of the sea­son was ap­par­ent to ev­ery­one at Joel Coli­seum: Vir­ginia’s dou­ble-digit sec­ond-half lead evap­o­rated into a 76-71 loss be­cause of a host of fa­mil­iar de­fen­sive mis­cues.

Pin­point­ing the causes for the lack of ag­gres­sion and de­fen­sive break­downs that have doomed the Cava­liers (11-10, 2-5 ACC) for a ma­jor­ity of the 2010-11 cam­paign proved more dif­fi­cult.

“I wish I had an an­swer,” Vir­ginia Coach Tony Ben­nett said.

“I re­ally don’t know,” fresh­man guard K.T. Har­rell said.

“We’ve just got to learn from those mis­takes,” sopho­more guard Jon­tel Evans of­fered. “We keep say­ing that, but we’ve just got to keep learn­ing.”

The Cava­liers have a thick les­son plan com­ing off their sixth straight loss to Wake For­est (8-13, 1-5), though no new pages needed to be added from the one they car­ried into Satur­day’s game. Vir­ginia owned a sec­ond­half lead for the fourth time in five ACC losses, but the Cava­liers did not ad­just enough when the De­mon Dea­cons al­tered their of­fen­sive strat­egy.

Wake For­est Coach Jeff Bzde­lik said he felt his team got “mar­ried to three-point shots” early in the sec­ond half. But af­ter ju­nior guard Sammy Zeglin­ski made a three-pointer to push Vir­ginia’s lead to 10 with just less than 13 min­utes re­main­ing, Bzde­lik in­structed his play­ers to fo­cus more on feed­ing the ball into the paint.

De­mon Dea­cons cen­ter Ty Walker — who had logged more than nine min­utes once in Wake For­est’s pre­vi­ous five games — played 23 min­utes and scored 10 of his 11 points in the sec­ond half.

Less than 48 hours af­ter al­low­ing Mary­land to shoot 68 per­cent in the sec­ond half of a 66-42 de­feat, Vir­ginia wit­nessed Wake For­est shoot 56 per­cent af­ter the in­ter­mis­sion.

Vir­ginia’s coaches keep a stat dur­ing games that tracks how many times the Cava­liers can go three con­sec­u­tive de­fen­sive pos­ses­sions with­out giv­ing up a point. They call such oc­cur­rences “get­ting a gap,” ac­cord­ing to Ben­nett.

Ben­nett said that at the first me­dia time­out of the sec­ond half, his team had recorded one gap since the break. Vir­ginia did not tally an­other one the rest of the game.

“Whether it’s mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, tran­si­tion, not block­ing out, not giv­ing up straight-line drives to the bas­ket, let­ting a guy post us up,” Ben­nett said, “ there were a few break­downs that you re­ally, as the game gets tighter, you’ve got to make them earn. . . . We tried to sim­plify things, cer­tainly late in the game, so guys don’t have to think as much. We were pretty sim­ple. It kind of comes down to a bat­tle of wills late in the game, and we had some costly break­downs.”

While the Cava­liers re­ceived an­other solid per­for­mance from ju­nior cen­ter As­sane Sene (15 points, 13 re­bounds) and col­lec­tively re­dis­cov­ered their shoot­ing touch (50 per­cent from the field), they also saw Wake For­est score 20 points off 11 Vir­ginia turnovers. Mary­land had tal­lied 17 points off 15 Cava­liers turnovers Thurs­day.

“ Their points off our turnovers re­ally hurt us,” Ben­nett said. “ That’s a stat that is cru­cial.” Nearly mid­way through its con­fer­ence slate, Vir­ginia’s foot­ing ap­pears more un­sta­ble than it’s been at any pre­vi­ous point this sea­son. Play­ers pointed to their of­fen­sive per­for­mance Satur­day as proof that their con­fi­dence has not waned.

But the Cava­liers’ of­fense— as shaky as it’s been at times — hasn’t been the pri­mary rea­son they’ve lost five of their last six games.

When asked whether, de­spite his team’s abun­dant youth, he thought Vir­ginia would be fur­ther along de­fen­sively at this point in the sea­son, Ben­nett noted that the Cava­liers have put forth “stretches of very good de­fense” at cer­tain points, but “ to see the break­downs I saw at the end of this game, I wouldn’t have guessed we’d have that many as long as we’ve been work­ing at it.”

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