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Rebuilding Reality

Game Highlights

The Virginia Cavaliers rolled into Boston on a wave of good feeling from their weekend thrashing of the rival Hokies, and promptly converted on their first possession to begin the ho-hum beatdown of a hapless Boston College program that had not beaten Virginia in years. Then they retreated to the other end of the court to get the ball back - and stayed there for over a minute and four fouls. Two of them on fifth-year senior Mamadi Diakite. They escaped that possession unharmed when BC leader Steffon Mitchell missed a pair of free throws and freshman CJ Felder missed a three, but they could not escape their own inability to put the ball in the basket. Before they could hit another shot, they had missed seven in a row and trailed 8-2 to a team that was playing with fire and determination.

"They outplayed us," Coach Tony Bennett admitted after the 60-53 loss. "We're a team that, if we're not ready, and we're not right, we're not good enough to be sloppy in some of the areas like readiness, alertness, hustle plays. We can't absorb us not being at a high level of readiness.  We were not right."

The omens were there. The Cavaliers fell behind by ten in the first half, 18-8; only the third time this season they faced a double-digit deficit. The other two times were in humiliating losses to Purdue and South Carolina. After five games of hitting more than 30% of their threes, the Team That Couldn't Shoot Straight re-emerged, clanking their first six three-point attempts - all of them excellent looks. The Hoos battled back from that start to close to a single point, 21-20, but then could not sustain the effort and gave the mojo back to the home team with a foul, a turnover, and a missed three-pointer. Boston College would carry the lead into the half, 30-26 - only the third time this season the Hoos faced a halftime deficit. The other two times were - you guessed it - humiliating losses to Purdue and South Carolina.

The Hoos' lack of readiness was demonstrated not just by the terrible shooting, but also by the rebounding numbers: a poor rebounding Boston College team won the boards 19-13, limiting the Hoos to just two offensive boards.

Another tendency that has plagued Virginia this season also cropped up again: poor starts to the second half. Boston College roared out of the locker room and attacked the Cavaliers with ferocity in the first six minutes of the second half, 12-4, to seize a 12-point lead when Jay Heath hit a three-pointer over Kihei Clark, whom he thoroughly outplayed. Another double-digit drubbing appeared in the works.

But the Cavaliers rallied, and behind a breakout performance by sophomore forward Kody Stattmann, they ground out a 20-3 assault that turned the 42-30 deficit into a 5-point lead with 5:25 to play. Stattmann had six points and an assist during the run, driving off left-side ball screens into the paint and making plays. Diakite and Jay Huff also came up big during this stretch of the game. Order, it appeared, had been restored. "But [BC] just came straight back at us, and we weren't really expecting that," Stattmann admitted.

And in that one sentence, Kody revealed the heart of the issue with this team: they still have not grasped the level of intensity and effort required to win at this level. Teams just don't go away when you take the lead from them. They come straight back at you. South Carolina did it when the Hoos tied the game. Arizona State did it. And now Boston College did it. The Hoos did what young teams often do: they put forth a supreme effort to get back into the game, then thought they had it and let up.

The Eagles turned the defense back up, taking away the side ball screens. "They've improved defensively this year with their intensity. They're switching ball screens, and kind of forcing some action," Bennett explained. "It was a game where you had to make some plays off the dribble and be able to finish at the rim and we had some trouble with that."

Virginia fell because Boston College kept coming hard, and the Cavaliers did not meet their ferocity in the end. The Eagles hit some tough shots, but their defense forced the Hoos to make plays off the dribble, and Virginia - chiefly Clark - failed. After a couple of encouraging outings, the 5-9 sophomore was unable to finish drives, going 0-9 on shots inside the lane. Unlike Navy and Virginia Tech, Boston College has some athletic size and they forced Clark to take contested layups against bigger players.

The game ended with a scare, as Braxton Key used his left hand to break his fall on a last possession offensive rebound attempt and stayed down holding that injured wrist. Apparently he is OK, according to Jeff White's VirginiaSports.Com game story.

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