Much like the Syracuse game, an ill Sean Singletary struggled with his touch.
For the second time this month, senior Sean Singletary struggled to find a rhythm while playing through illness, and similar to the last occasion against Syracuse, the Cavaliers looked sloppy with their star point guard under the weather. Hartford, however, was unable to muster enough offense to take advantage of the Cavaliers’ sluggish Sunday as Virginia emerged with a 78-70 victory.
After UVa went on an early first-half run to gain a 41-28 lead at intermission, it appeared that the Cavaliers were due to make quick work of a Hartford team that lost to Louisville and Brigham Young by a combined 59 points earlier this year. The Hawks, however, slowly chiseled into the Cavalier lead early in the second half, coming to within four with 11:28 remaining in regulation. Hartford stayed within striking distance as time wound down, but was unable to make another serious run – the lead hovered from 5 to 10 in the last 10 minutes.
Virginia coach Dave Leitao was not happy from the performance of his team, noting that the Cavaliers have failed to show consistency throughout the season despite their 10-2 record.
“Overall, we continue to be inconsistent enough that it doesn’t allow us to put forth days and weeks and games together that you can grow from,” Leitao said. “You could attribute that to a number of different things, but the fact remains that we’re not where we need to be as a group.”
One of those things that Leitao attributed his team’s poor play was mental immaturity. Leitao blamed this factor above all others as the main reason Virginia has struggled to maintain a high level of play.
“When we get sloppy mentally, we turn the ball over, we don’t box out, we give up offensive rebounds, we don’t run as hard, we miss people,” Leitao said. “There’s a number of things that come into play.”
Though Leitao was unhappy with the effort of the entire team, one cannot help but notice, yet again, how heavily Virginia leans on Singletary; the point guard struggled to score, and the Cavaliers did not fare well. The ailing Singletary shot an abysmal 3-14 from the floor, and went 5-7 from the free throw line for 12 points. The equation of poor Singletary shooting = struggling Hoos is a trend that has extended from the team’s only two losses to Seton Hall and Syracuse, in which Singletary shot a combined 10-30.
Singletary “is our unquestioned leader emotionally and talent-wise by the way he plays the game,” Leitao said. “When he’s not at his best, we get dramatically affected.”
Dave Leitao’s team can’t find any consistency as players fight injuries.
Though Virginia managed a win against Hartford despite playing below par, the Cavaliers’ schedule becomes much more demanding from this point forward, as the team travels to Xavier on Jan. 3 before going to Duke a week later to kick off conference play. The rest of the players know that they have to be able to offer better support to Singletary regardless of his health to maintain their winning ways.
“We’re still waiting and hoping that even if he is feeling well, that the other guys can pick up the slack,” Leitao said. “As I told both [Mamadi Diane ] and [senior] Adrian [Joseph], who statistically, 35 points and 21 rebounds, you like to have that from anybody in combination, but I don’t think that their overall performance … was indicative to us continuing to play well, get better, and that kind of thing.”
One more problem to which the players attributed the unsatisfactory effort was the instability of the roster, as players continue to move in and out of the line-up with injuries. Though the team was happy to see sophomore Solomon Tat and senior Tunji Soroye get back in the line-up for the first time this year, along with the return of senior Ryan Pettinella, the team continues to be without junior Lars Mikalauskas and freshman Sammy Zeglinski; Jamil Tucker was also out and is day-to-day with a back injury according to Leitao.
“I think it’s hard for Coach [Leitao] right now, because a lot of guys are in and out, in and out, so to get the rhythm is really difficult,” Tat said. “You might see two guys coming back to play, then two guys sitting out, so it’s kind of hard to get a group of guys that play all the time together, know each other.”
With several players transitioning in and out of injury, Leitao has been unable to find stability in the rotation, as he continues to utilize nearly the entire roster with conference play approaching. Against Hartford, 12 players saw time on the floor in a game that had no garbage time.
“By this time, our guys should know, ‘Okay I’m going to play 12 minutes, and this is when I’m going to go in … and this is when I’m not going to play,'” Leitao said. “Right now, we don’t have that. We don’t have it at the five, we don’t have it at the four, and other spots.”
Though Leitao was not impressed with his team’s performance, the opportunity to give time to Soroye and Tat was one piece of good news. Neither player put up good numbers in their limited time on the floor – Soroye had a free throw and two rebounds in three minutes, while Tat had none of each in five minutes – but both said that they are fully returned to health and anxious to see more time on the floor.
“The biggest thing now, which is the most important thing, is rhythm,” Leitao said. “Tunji got out there and you saw a couple of fouls early, and just didn’t have his sea legs under him. It’s hard, especially at this time of year, to be experimenting, so you’re in a catch-22 situation, the same way you are with Ryan and Solomon. We’ve got to be able to use practices to get them more basketball rhythm.”
From a physical standpoint, both Soroye and Tat said that they are both close enough to 100 percent that they should be able to make major strides toward finding their rhythm.
“During practice last week, I did well,” Soroye said. “I still was able to have some shot blocks, and I was rebounding well. I was moving well. I just have to get in the rhythm of things.”
“I’ve been practicing the whole week, and I feel a lot better than I usually feel,” Tat said. “I feel confident that I’m fully back right now, but it’s just for me to get my rhythm back right now.”
After this disappointing performance, the Cavaliers have the task of recovering both from their poor play and from injury and illness. With a short week to prepare for Xavier followed by another long break before a barrage of conference games, there is no better time than these two weeks, when there are no classes, no exams, and no distractions – just basketball.
“Especially this time of year, when there’s no classes and you have so much free time, it’s probably the last opportunity that everybody gets to work on their individual skills, not having anything else to worry about but basketball, from now until the end of the year,” Diane said.
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