At the risk of wet-blanketing the flames of hope fanned by the Virginia women's basketball team's 13-point victory at Maryland Monday night, I must pose the question: Why should we believe this momentum will last?
After all, for each of their spirit-lifting wins this season, the Cavaliers have swallowed an equally disheartening loss. They outplayed the Terps on Monday, but just last week they played what coach Debbie Ryan called "the worst half of basketball we've played all year" in losing by 15 at N.C. State. Two weeks ago, Virginia hung with No. 4 Duke, then followed up with the first loss to Florida State in program history.
Yet the inconsistency of the 15-9 Cavaliers (6-5 ACC) is not their cardinal sin. It's one thing for a team to sludge to its worst start in 21 years and cling precariously to the bottom of the national polls. It's another thing for the players on that team to show few if any signs that they actually care about it.
The blame does not lie with Ryan, who had surgery in August to remove a small cancerous tumor from her pancreas and has somehow managed to coach this season while undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments. Ryan is one of the toughest figures in college basketball, but even she seems at her wit's end in dealing with this bunch of infuriating underachievers. No matter what tactics she employs, she can't make them care.