Cavaliers suffer defensive letdown again
Virginia fails to stop Wake Forest, which wins its first ACC game
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.”