Thursday, March 23, 2006

Season on the Brink pt. 2

After the loss to Fordham, Virginia basketball was in a severe trough. A road game at Gonzaga was not want anyone wanted, but it proved to be more than anyone anticipated either. With an exam break to recover from injuries, Sean Singletary played the game of his career against Adam Morrisson and the Bulldogs. While many NBA scouts were there to watch Morrisson it was Singletary who stole the show with 35 points and 6 steals. Virginia played one of its better road games all season considering their woes outside of the state of Virginia, but it was not enough. A late run by Gonzaga gave them a comfortable 80-69 victory, not indicative of the battle Virginia truly gave the eventual WCC champions. Virginia was now 3-4, with three straight losses. Thankfully for the Cavaliers, some easier competition was on the horizon.

Virginia cruised past Loyola of Maryland 98-59 to even their record to 4-4. The offense Virginia fans begged for all season shined through in the first half when the Cavaliers registered 60 points and led by 31 points at the break. J.R. Reynolds had 25 points and Adrian Joseph had 24, an amazing feat for the sophomore from Trinidad. Joseph's inability to produce these kinds of numbers on the road remains a problem Virginia must look to fix next season. Jason Cain registered another double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Perhaps the most important stat was Singletary only had 4 points. Unlike Fordham, this time the role players stepped up and Virginia looked better than it had all season.

UMBC and Hartford were two American East teams that gave Virginia all it could handle. Although the Cavaliers won both contests, both were by much closer margins than people had predicted. Reynolds proved to be the difference in the 77-66 win over UMBC with 20 point, 14 of them were in the second half. Singletary followed suit in the Hartford game, with 13 of his 22 points coming in the second half. Joseph had 15 and Reynolds, 13 points. Virginia had pushed its record up to 6-4, but now they had a tough contest against Western Kentucky. A game Virginia had to win in overtime at home last year.

The Western Kentucky game stood as an example of what Virginia was about all season. The Cavaliers fell behind early on the road and clawed back in it. The Cavaliers got it to within two (62-60) but could not make the big shots late and Western Kentucky did. Virginia had to rely almost solely on J.R. and Sean who scored 46 of the team's 68 points. Joseph had 2 points on 1-6 shooting and while Jason Cain had 10 points he only had 3 rebounds. Virginia was now 6-5 and back in the ACC grind.

Pete Gillen didn't win many games in the ACC, but he absolutely owned Clemson. The Tigers at home was seen as a winnable game by most. Virginia played like it too. The game went back and forth but Virginia led most of the contest. When the Cavaliers appeared to be pulling away late in the game, the Tigers made a tremendous charge. Cliff Hammonds gave the Tigers a 53-52 lead before Cain made some free throws to give Virginia the lead back. The Tigers got a three point play however from Hammonds to give Clemson a 56-55 lead with only 1:33 to go. Virginia was in could not afford to go 0-2 in the ACC. This was one of those games Virginia had to pull out, and they did. Singletary hit a hgue jumper to reclaim the lead, then it was a foul game where he and Reynolds made clutch shots and insured Virginia's first ACC victory on the year. At 7-5, 1-1 in the ACC Virginia was still looking solid, but now the ACC season had truly begun.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Virginia tops Canes 83-72

The Virginia women's basketball team kept their season alive with an 83-72 victory tonight at University Hall. The game was quite different in almost every aspect from the first round game against St. Joe's. Virginia was able to find some shooting touch that was sorely missed in the first round of the NIT. At the end of the half, Virginia had 45 points, 3 less than they had scored all game against St. Joe's. A 10-0 run to end the half gave Virginia some critical cushion against a very talented Miami ball club. The Cavaliers led by 15 at the break.

The second half started perfectly with a three-pointer by Takisha Granberry which extended the lead. The margin peaked at 20 and hovered around the high teens early on. Miami would make a comeback though, led by star Tamara James. The ACC's leading scorer kept the trend going with 31 points and 10 rebounds. She was able to draw fouls and made a fair amount of them. A big bucket by Renee Taylor cut the deficit to 5, 70-65 with 3:18 to go. James, despite a strong outing, had a moment to forget committing a foul and a technical. This killed the Hurricane run which seemed to be overwhelming and gave Virginia enough of a margin to pull out the victory. This time around Virginia did much better at the line, going 18-26. In fact, if not for Lyndra Little's pervasive struggles, Virginia would be pretty tough to beat from the foul line.

Six Cavaliers scored in double figures, a huge contrast from last week's game. Sharnee Zoll and Brenna McGuire led the team with 16 points each. The success of McGuire is comforting for most Virginia fans, her ability to make shots gives the basketball team a chance to reach that next level.

"I got great open looks and kept shooting," McGuire said. "They went in tonight."

The shots went in for Siedah Williams and Tiffany Sardin as well, finishing with 13 and 12 points respectively. Williams had a great game, after a hard fall took her to the bench for most of the second half, she came back on to the floor and gave the Cavaliers a much needed boost. Every time a play had to be made, she was there. Sardin also played stellar defense despite fouling out. She did a solid job running the floor. Takisha Granberry and Lyndra Littles also added in 10 points each, helping give the Cavaliers the offense needed to take down this team.

"I thought Virginia's first half was their best offensive performance," Miami coach Katie Meier said. "I'm happy for Debbie and her players. The story of the 2006 postseason is that the ACC is dominating."

Next up for Virginia is the Pittsburgh Panthers on Friday. This contest has already been scheduled at Pittsburgh, so UVA must leave the friendly confines. Does this mean we have officially had the Last Ball at U-Hall....probably. If so, the women's basketball team took it out in style. They played a great game, an effort that can build into the next season.

The Cavaliers just hope next season isn't for a little while longer.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Virginia defeats St. Joe's in WNIT 48-42

The Virginia women's basketball team has had an up and down season, but their postseason started off on the right foot with a 48-42 victory over the St. Joseph Hawks. The game was not the prettiest, but it could very well be the last ever basketball game at U-Hall. In which case, at least the Old Clam went out with a win and not that heartbreaker to Maryland.

Virginia was led by a gutsy performance from Siedah Williams. Her 13 points, 10 rebounds and 4 steals truly were the difference in this defensive struggle. To imagine that she did this with a bad leg makes the performance even more impressive. Lyndra Littles was the only other Cavalier to hit double figures with 12 points and 7 rebounds. Despite those impressive numbers it could have been more if not going 0-2 at the line. In fact Virginia at the line was an abysmal 7 of 17, which helped keep the game tight and give the Hawks life.

St. Joseph had a terrible time scoring but it never really mattered because UVA's futility helped keep the Hawks in the ball game. The Cavaliers shot 36% from the floor by St. Joe's could only muster 29%, going 16-22 at the line however was something Virginia should take note of. Timisha Gomex led the Hawks with 11 points and Whitney French added in another 10 but they also contributed 14 of the 23 St. Joe turnovers. In the end, poor shooting, sloppy passing and rebounding cost them the game.

For Virginia it was a terrible shooting game even at the line, their offense was only able to really get things going in the transition game. The Cavaliers scored half of their points off of turnovers, HALF! The fact of the matter is Virginia could have easily lost if it had been another team, but the season continues. Up next for the Cavaliers are the Miami Hurricanes who knocked off FIU 95-83. The Canes will most likely host the game, when Virginia played at Miami earlier this year they registered an impressive road victory. A similar performance would prove critical to keeping the momentum towards next season going. The Cavaliers will just have to be much better than they were tonight

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Season on the Brink

Virginia men's basketball came into the 2005-06 season with zero expectations, a unanimous pick to finish last. Virginia had a new coach with Dave Leitao and a new team in the ACC with Boston College. Virginia had lost Elton Brown, which certainly appeared like addition by subtraction but also had to recover from the graduation of Devin Smith and Jason Clark. As the season began, Virginia had to wonder how they could put a frontcourt on the floor. Problems got even worse when Gary Forbes transferred to UMass in the fall. Forbes and Singletary were the only bright spots to a terrible season last year, now Singletary was going to have to do it alone. The Cavaliers opened the year with a drubbing of Liberty University at home. Coach Leitao was vocal throughout, picking up a technical when Virginia was already up by over 20 points. The contrast between regimes was evident. What was also evident was the lack of T.J. Bannister and Donte Minter on the floor. Both players were out with injury, and soon Minter left the team for "personal reasons". The season had barely begun but the Cavaliers were in deep trouble. They had no depth, with transfers and injuries, the Cavaliers had 7 scholarship players available. With Minter gone, there was no depth in the front court and the options were sparse. Jason Cain had been a joke to most ACC teams, Soroye was tall but had very little ball handling or awareness skills. Laurynas Mikalauskas was a freshman, and the third option of a team that had no options.

Virginia picked up a 59-43 decision against Richmond on the road before an absolute annihilation by Arizona. The Cavaliers played a tough first half and impressed most before turnovers and frustration led to an absolute second half rout for a final score of 81-51. The Cavaliers bounced back though with an impressive victory over the Northwestern Wildcats in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, 72-57. A late run gave Virginia a decent 3-1 record thanks to 23 points by Sean Singletary. It also featured a big game by freshman Mamadi Diane. The jump shooter showed flashes of brilliance this season for the Cavaliers and when he plays well he can be the third option in the offense, his 18 points and 6 rebounds however proved to be the exception and not the norm. Virginia rolled into Atlanta with some momentum, and had a chance against the then 2-2 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. GT went out to a huge lead, maxing around 14-15 points. Virginia's ACC woes looked to continue, but the Cavaliers did make a charge. Instead of packing it in, Virginia went on a surprising run, cutting the defecit to four late in the second half before running out of steam and momentum. Virginia would lose their ACC opener 63-54. The bright spot in this game was Jason Cain. Thin as a rail and notorious for lack of concentration, the junior center had 15 points and 11 rebounds. It was amazing but it appeared that Cain was really starting to thrive under Leitao's tutelage. His concentration and focus were noticable, but despite the good news, it was still a loss for Virginia. Coach Leitao was not going to discuss moral victories.

The next game for the Cavaliers was the Fordham Rams. Singletary had a so-so performance against GT and sat this game out with an injured hip. Now Virginia's lack of depth was painfully obvious. Virginia could not handle the inside presence and Fordham gave the Cavaliers more than they could handle. With Sean out, the pressure was on junior J.R. Reynolds to shoulder the load and he could not. A missed three-pointer at the buzzer for Reynolds spelled the 62-60 loss for Virginia and a huge win for Fordham. Reynolds finished with just 8 points, while Cain finished with another amazing game of 16 points and 15 rebounds. It seemed obvious that Cain was shining under this system, and it appeared Reynolds was not. Could J.R. become the scorer and leader that Virginia needed? With the ACC schedule and a matchup against Gonzaga looming, the 3-3 Cavaliers needed to find answers, or face the season of futility that most had envisioned.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ballin in U-Hall?

With one game left in the regular season, the Virginia men's basketball team has a miraculous opportunity to finish the season .500 in the ACC. So why is all the talk out of Hooville negative?

Two straight road losses have taken the wind of out Virginia's sails after the Cavaliers dominated the 11th ranked BC Eagles at home. These two road losses against UNC and Clemson were complete annihilations, augmented by the fact Virginia is 1-7 in the ACC on the road (the one win a 54-49 decision against the Hokies). Virginia has not won a game outside of the Commonwealth all year long and it seems to be the one constant between Dave Leitao's team and his predecessor Pete Gillen. So why is it so hard to play on the road?

Obviously a large crowd can be intimidating, the noise level can cause confusion and turnovers but for the most part playing on the road is purely a mental thing. Mature teams realize it should be no different than a home game, but so far the Cavaliers have been a Jekyll and Hyde team. At home they appear unbeatable, on the road they appear the haphazard mess we had envisioned before the year began (or even halfway through it). Can Leitao put his team over the mental barrier which has plagued Virginia basketball for so long? It seems to be the hardest question to answer.

Another pertinent question seems to be what happened to Jason Cain. The junior center has barely played in the last two games, and it appears it is coming from an argument between Cain and assistant coach Seymour. Could it be Cain is simply injured? Could it be his attitude? Could it be his play is substandard? The fact is Virginia has no depth and without it's biggest surprise the Cavaliers are playing just as we had feared they would. Don't expect to get answers from close-lipped Leitao. He runs a tight ship and while it is very good for the team, it's not good for the speculative fan.

Next up for Virginia is Maryland, the final game at U-Hall ever, barring an NIT appearance. There should be a lot of pageantry and alumni, but will there be a game? The fact is Virginia's confidence seems to be at zero. Even if it is at home, can Virginia rebound after such resounding blows to their postseason hopes? Leitao has done everything to earn ACC Coach of the Year consideration, but he needs to end this season on a high note. Prove that this year is not a fluke, and that this team has truly progressed. Beat Maryland and the Cavaliers can look firmly to an NIT run with at least some confidence. Lose and the Cavaliers could spiral into a great year with a disappointing conclusion...whoa....deja vu.