Flames Blow Past Cavaliers

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After pulling off three tight wins to open the season, Virginia’s luck finally ran out Tuesday night as the Cavaliers were stunned by Liberty University, 86-82, in the John Paul Jones Arena. Playing from behind for a majority of the game, Virginia failed to pull out a victory despite a late run in the game’s final minutes.

“I thought on our side that we lost the game far before today even started,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “We’ve been flirting with disaster or losses or whatever you want to call them for awhile now and the ball fortunately bounced our way a couple of times; we were fortunate enough to win the last couple of games and didn’t bounce our way this time so we weren’t.”

Sammy Zeglinski’s career high 24 points, all in the second half, was not enough to push the Cavaliers to a win

The Cavaliers were never able to gain their offensive footing against the Flames’ zone defense, save an impressive run of 3-pointers late in the second half. Sammy Zeglinski scored 24 second-half points, a career high for the guard, but it was too late to salvage the Hoos’ chances. The zone appeared to give Virginia problems with getting the ball to the interior through penetrating passes, an area where they have struggled early this season. Mike Scott, while pulling down 17 rebounds, only got four field goal attempts out of the post position.

“It was a switch-in match-up zone and we really don’t play against that too many times and we really don’t practice against it,” guard Calvin Baker said. “That’s not an excuse, it’s just hard to prepare for. It’s really hard to get the ball down inside because it was almost like they were doubling him [Scott] when he did get it.”

Regardless of the Flames’ defense, Leitao cited interior passes (or other methods of attacking the inside) as a major area in need of improvement.

“I thought the ball needed to get below 15 feet a lot more than it did,” Leitao said. “Either by the pass, penetration, post up, what have you. We have not been doing as good a job in game time situations. I thought that was one of the things that coming into the year, preseason, that we were doing a lot better than in the past but we really haven’t followed through on that.”

Highlighting the Cavs’ struggles on offense was the performance of Mamadi Diane , who continues to battle through an early season offensive slump. Diane finished 0 of 6 against the LU. According to Leitao, figuring out Diane’s trouble is central to the team’s success.

“His struggles are our struggles and we’ve gotta get him to a place where he can figure it out and we can figure it out,” Leitao said.

Even more disturbing than the offense was the inability of Virginia’s defense to contest Liberty’s perimeter-based offense. A tandem of strong 3-point shooters destroyed Virginia, including Anthony Smith, Kyle Ohman, and Seth Curry (brother of Davidson’s Stephan Curry). Liberty ran their five-man perimeter offense with great success against the Hoos, tallying 39 ponts off of 3-pointers. The numbers don’t get any better from there. After holding the Flames to 35 first-half points, the Cavs’ defense fell apart in the second half by allowing Liberty to shoot 16 of 23 (69.6%) from the field.

Quite simply, “not acceptable,” according to Zeglinski.

The Cavaliers couldn’t find an answer to Liberty’s sharp-shooting.

Baker agreed.

“Our defense is horrible right now,” he said. “Teams are shooting a very high percentage on us and we’ve really got to fix that. We’ve got to talk more, we’ve got to be more passionate about it, we’ve got to want to win.”

Sylven Landesberg attributed the defensive lapses against Liberty to a lack of communication on their perimeter defense.

“I guess it was just communication,” Landesberg said. “They played a similar offense to VMI, a 4-out, 5-out at times. We were trying to switch on screens and it was just getting really confusing. We didn’t talk and I guess we got caught up with that.”

Liberty’s fast offensive start, opening the game with an 8-point lead off early 3-balls, was a result of impassionate play on defense, Leitao said.

“Early threes are more about guys coming after you and if people come after you and they face resistance, maybe they keep coming and maybe they don’t,” Leitao said. “I don’t think they ever faced the kind of resistance, passionately or physically, that one needs to pull back the reins on what they are doing.”

Virginia’s offense, powered by Zeglinski’s six 3-pointers, looked poised to pull ahead in the second half but the hosts’ efforts were hampered by the Flames’ trio, who continued to knock down big shots from the perimeter. The Hoos had no answer defensively for Liberty’s sharp-shooting attack, knocking down 6 of 10 3-pointers in the second half. Virginia’s defensive collapse against LU certainly highlights larger defensive problems with the team. Leitao made it known after last season that defense would become a focal point of the program in the offseason. Four games into this campaign, however, the Cavs have not shown much progression, allowing their opponents to shoot 123 of 259 (.475%) from the field while averaging 81 points.

“We certainly haven’t played defense the way we need to as of yet,” Leitao said. “I understand that it’s a work in progress. I knew I’d have to be patient with it, as I’m trying to be, but there’s some core principles that we need to follow that are probably more disturbing than anything, that we are not doing as well or as consistently as we need to.”

Box Score

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