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ANDERSON: Five takeaways from Virginia Athletics for the week of Feb. 22

The action never stopped this week for the Cavaliers

<p>Virginia women's lacrosse took down rival Virginia Tech 12-10 this weekend, led by junior midfielder Annie Dyson's three goals. &nbsp;</p>

Virginia women's lacrosse took down rival Virginia Tech 12-10 this weekend, led by junior midfielder Annie Dyson's three goals.  

It was a jam-packed week for the Cavaliers, as it was throughout the month of February for all college athletics — an incredible 15 different sports had some sort of event over the past seven days. As a result of differing schedules due to COVID-19, many fall sports elected to have conference championships in the spring, so Cavalier fans are treated with the rarity of teams from all three seasons playing at the same time. Men’s swim and dive finished fourth at the ACC Championships, while men’s and women’s track and field finished seventh and third, respectively. Squash, volleyball and men’s and women’s tennis all posted wins this week, while men’s lacrosse and men’s soccer both lost. To finish, fans were treated with a great weekend at the diamond, where baseball and softball each split series. Let’s take a closer look with five takeaways from Virginia sports.

Virginia men’s basketball has become over reliant on three-pointers

This is not a typical Tony Bennett-coached team. Instead of the vaunted pack-line defense carrying the day, Virginia basketball counts on its offense to win games, which is a bit of a culture shock as opposed to the past few seasons. And when that offense doesn’t show up, games like the Cavaliers’ 68-61 loss to NC State happen. Virginia started off ice cold from the field, leading to a 24-10 deficit in the first half. Despite coming back to take their first lead of the game in the middle of the second period, the Cavaliers’ shooting failed them. Virginia shot just 28 percent from beyond the arc, and everyone besides senior forward Sam Hauser was practically nonexistent from three. Jay Huff had an excellent game when he got the ball, but there simply were too many times when Huff had a matchup advantage and ended up watching a three get jacked up with six seconds on the shot clock. The Cavaliers simply take too many three-point attempts and get burned when shots don’t fall. Combine that with suspect defense once again, and the loss to the Wolfpack suddenly isn’t so surprising. 

Rotations on defense continue to hurt the Cavaliers

Speaking of suspect defense, the 68-61 score may have been a tad deceiving in terms of the defensive effort by Virginia basketball. There were multiple points throughout the game where the audience could see Bennett shaking his head after miscues on the side of the ball Virginia is known for. A large portion of the easy buckets NC State got throughout the game came from rotational errors by the Cavaliers, particularly on plays initiated from the low block. A quintessential pillar of the pack-line defense is the scheme of double-teaming the ball if it reaches the post player. This scheme is designed to create panic passes from the ball handler, as big men are typically not known for their passing vision. Ideally, one of the three other defenders would then steal the ball for a fast break the other way. Unfortunately for Virginia, not many of those ideal scenarios came to fruition. Part of the problem is a testament to the Wolfpack big men, who made smart passes that led to easy points. But more often than not, a missed assignment by the other defenders gave NC State an out from the double team and an advantage for the rest of the possession. Bennett will undoubtedly focus in on rotations in practice in the coming days.

Possession control was key for women’s lacrosse

Virginia women’s lacrosse opened conference play Saturday with a hard-earned rivalry win over Virginia Tech. The 12th-ranked Cavaliers outlasted the 15th-ranked Hokies 12-10 in a match that was tight throughout the game. What won it for Virginia was its ability to control possessions, especially at opportune moments. The Cavaliers’ expertise was shown specifically during draws, where Virginia won an incredible 68 percent of draw controls in the match.  As a result of starting with the ball so often, the Cavaliers were able to overcome a few deficiencies during the game, such as struggling with turnovers and free positions. But when it mattered most, Virginia won the last four draws, effectively running out the clock on an outstanding game by both teams. Look for Virginia to carry the momentum through to another match with a Commonwealth opponent in George Mason next week.

The youth of Cavalier softball is getting more comfortable

After a sub-.500 start to the season, Virginia softball had a strong weekend at the Cavalier Invite, going 3-1 overall against James Madison and George Washington. It seems from the recent surge that the youth on the Cavalier softball team is settling into being the main components of the squad. With just one senior regularly in the starting lineup, a lot of the athletes have needed a bit of time to settle in. Junior Donna Friedman has been particularly impressive, with the catcher starting off the year batting .378. Another bright spot in the lineup on Sunday was junior Emma McBride, who earned the first start of her season, going 2-3 with a double in the fifth inning that she eventually scored off of. Overall, the Cavaliers are starting to see a bright nucleus of young players come into their own, and the Cavalier Invite may have been a starting point.

The softball team’s pitching has been a strong point so far

What did not need any time to warm up was the Cavaliers’ pitching. The unit has given up more than five runs just once this season —  a welcome sign to the offense that has been struggling to get going at times. In the second game of the doubleheader on Sunday, Virginia had one of its best outings of the season, defeating George Washington 3-1. Freshman Mikayla Houge pitched an extremely strong complete game, bouncing back from her first loss of the season against James Madison on Saturday. Houge conceded just three hits while throwing an impressive 53 strikes on just 70 pitches. Houge was not the only pitcher to perform well this weekend. In the first game of the doubleheader, a duo sophomores — Molly Grube and Mackenzie Wooten  —  and freshman Madison Harris — combined to defeat the Colonials, with Grube being credited with the decision. Look for more low-scoring games this year as the pitchers for Virginia continue to do well.

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