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Ocean-throwing blues

Second-half swoon punctuates horrid night for Cavs

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In just its second episode, the cult television classic “Arrested Development” produced what remains one of its most iconic moments. G.O.B. Bluth, the lovably hapless oldest son of the show’s zany titular family, attempts to throw a check into the ocean to spite his younger and more responsible brother Michael. The attempt fails in miserable, albeit hilarious, fashion.

To say Virginia failed to “throw it in the ocean” in a deflating 48-38 home defeat to No. 8 Wisconsin Wednesday night might represent a gross understatement. The Cavaliers’ 23.4 percent shooting marks the fourth lowest in school history and the 38 points the lowest ever registered in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game, with a startling multitude of those missed shots coming on opportunities so simple the Frisbee Puppies who performed at halftime were shaking their heads in disdain.

Senior guard Joe Harris, so often the team’s life preserver during similar shooting maladies last season, shot 1-of-10 from the field, 0-for-4 from 3-point range and looked deranged with frustration throughout the second half. His senior counterpart, forward Akil Mitchell, picked up three first-half fouls and finished with five points to prolong a disappointing start to the 2013-13 campaign.

That the collective, incessant moaning of 11,142 exasperated John Paul Jones Arena patrons was interrupted by the haphazard and aimless whistling of referee and officiating Voldemort Karl Hess only compounded the agony.

It was a disaster nonpareil for Virginia men’s basketball, one Murphy’s Law somehow seems insufficient to explain.

Indeed, the game was an anomaly. Harris and company can connect on layups and will during the next few months. Hess will not work every Virginia game. And the Cavaliers, which had led the nation in limiting opponents’ rebounds and defensive rebounding percentage entering Wednesday night, will perform more soundly on the glass after getting outrebounded 40-34 and yielding 12 offensive boards to the gargantuan, Frank Kaminsky-led Wisconsin frontline. Kaminsky snagged 12 rebounds — six on the offensive glass — in large part simply by virtue of being a seven-foot colossus.

But even though we can and should acknowledge Wednesday night’s game will ultimately prove uncharacteristic of Virginia’s quality as a team, the performance raised some concerns about the Cavaliers’ chances to approach the lofty preseason expectations heaped upon them.

Namely, it was the manner in which the players responded to their abnormally rotten luck, especially during a fatal stretch spanning the end of the first and beginning of second halves, which portends tournament-ostracizing doom if not addressed.

If not ideal, Virginia’s start to the game at least conformed to the formula requisite for defeating a heady Bo Ryan-coached team. After the first 6:52, the Cavaliers led 13-11 on 6-of-10 shooting and had forced Wisconsin into three turnovers and a series of harried, contested jumpers near the end of the shot-clock. It was quintessential Tony Bennett basketball, with the defense’s kinetic energy smothering the opponent and helping facilitate just enough offense to keep Virginia in control.

Virginia shot 2-of-17 for the remaining 13:08 of the half to let the Badgers overcome a slew of air-balls and squirm their way to a five-point cushion. Even then, however, the Virginia defense remained sturdy enough to suggest that a second half, crowd-induced surge of the sort Bennett’s squad patented last year could vault the Cavaliers back into control.

“I thought we lost our composure a little bit,” Bennett said of what ensued. “We had some opportunities to finish, and we didn’t.”

Missed 3-pointer, turnover, missed layup, turnover, missed fade-away jumper, missed layup, made free throw, two missed layups, missed 3-pointer, turnover, missed 3-pointer. By themselves, the outcomes of the Cavaliers’ first 11 offensive possessions of the second half read like Adam Morrison’s career box score.

Yet the words alone hardly do justice the comic ineptitude on display in those first nine minutes in the second half . As the solid opportunities Wisconsin’s defense consistently yielded to them recoiled tauntingly from the lid on the rim, the Cavaliers began to lose their grip of the elements of the game they were controlling before.

By the time sophomore center Mike Tobey hit a baby quasi-hook to finally record Virginia’s first field goal at the 11:08 mark, Wisconsin had stretched the lead to 34-23. In an otherwise superb performance, the Virginia defense had relented just enough during the offense’s stretch of futility for the Badgers to blow the game wide open.

Eleven spirited but uneven minutes later, the Cavaliers had finished the second half on 3-of-20 shooting with no player reaching double digits for the game. Tobey’s 3-of-7 output crowned him Virginia’s most accurate shooter Wednesday night, freshman guard London Perrantes’ eight points the team’s high scorer.

The box score will portray this game as a holistically Hindenberg-esque display from Virginia, in which shooting deficiencies scuppered any chance of hanging with a more ballyhooed and talented team.

But the Cavaliers really forfeited this game in those maddening first nine or so minutes of the second period. Not only did their luck bottom out, but they let the misfortune cascade into turnovers, missed opportunities, sulky facial expressions and uncharacteristic defensive lapses.

Instead of claiming a grueling victory or at least a valiant defeat against a formidable foe, Virginia suffered a humiliating double-digit loss to a Wisconsin team that missed the rim more often than American Airlines misses target arrival times.

“It happens,” Mitchell said. “Guys have off nights.”

He’s right. It happens, sometimes, as Forrest Gump once remarked.

That timeless truth suggests not only that the Cavaliers should shrug this nightmare off and arise tomorrow morning focused on upending Green Bay Saturday. It also guarantees that the squad will endure stretches of poor fortune throughout the rest of the season.

Great teams persevere just enough through those Murphy’s Law moments that they can usually capitalize when Lady Luck changes her mind again. If a great team is what Virginia aims to become — and rest assured, it still can — the players will need to weather the terrible times more effectively than they did tonight.

Even when you can’t quite throw it in the ocean, you don’t have to flail around like G.O.B.


Published December 4, 2013 in FP test, Sports

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