UVA went on the road this past week and came away with nothing but a couple losses to show for it. At least that’s how it goes on the surface. But at the risk of sounding like the twisted love child of Pollyanna and Little Orphan Annie, the lesson from the games in Chapel Hill and Miami should be optimistic, even if the outcomes weren’t. Even while playing with a short deck – Mike Tobey is still out with mono and Darion Atkins is in a brace and isn’t half the player he was early in the season – the Hoos did two things that people wouldn’t have expected out of them.
Against UNC, the defense totally collapsed, of course; UVA gave up 93 points in 69 possessions to the hot-shooting Tar Heels. Lack of frontcourt depth was a problem; so was the fact that UNC wouldn’t stop hitting three-pointers, and foul trouble topped it off. (The latter is not entirely of UVA’s making; one must cast a suspicious eye at the referees when Akil Mitchell picks up his third foul while falling out of bounds courtesy of a James McAdoo shove.) But UVA was also able to partly keep pace with UNC’s torrid scoring output; the Cavs’ 81-point performance was their third 80-point game of the year, the first two coming against powerhouses Seattle and North Texas. The Hoos hit almost 60% of their two-point shots, quite an accomplishment against the larger Heels. It was part of an offensive outburst that victimized Clemson, Maryland, and Virginia Tech in recent days – proof that UVA’s newfound shooting prowess likely isn’t a fluke.
On Tuesday the Hoos traveled to Miami to take on the country’s #2 team, and put a real fright into the Canes. Reggie Johnson’s layup with five seconds left broke a 50-all tie and finally gave Miami a lead it would keep. There’s little shame in a loss like that; no ACC team yet has solved the Hurricane puzzle, so losing to them puts UVA in a not-very-exclusive club. But when teams have given Miami a scare, it’s always been on the road. In ACC play, Miami had been winning by an average of more than 21 points, and the only game with a margin smaller than 20 was a seven-point win over Maryland that Miami led from start to finish. Even Duke and UNC had gotten blown out in Coral Gables. Virginia did not. They played Bennettball to near perfection, slowing the game to a snails pace and a crawly 56 total possessions. They were able to mitigate Miami’s enormous frontcourt advantage, held the Canes to one made three-pointer all day, and even blocked four shots. It was a great example of why Tony Bennett plays the way he does: when you execute it well, you can beat or at least put a scare into anyone.
So other than every defensive possession against UNC and a couple mistakes against Miami, UVA has played well lately despite the losses. And that on the road. The Hoos return home this weekend for a revenge game against Georgia Tech, and the last revenge game (Clemson) went reasonably well. And then they have Duke, also at home, where things have gone awfully well lately. Call it a nasty case of homeritis, but optimism still reigns in Charlottesville.
Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.