Jamil Tucker scored 12 points at Minnesota in a losing effort.
For the second straight road game against an undefeated opponent, the Virginia men’s basketball team took an early lead only to watch it evaporate quickly due to poor offensive possessions and defensive lapses. As a result, the Cavaliers had to play catch-up for the final 30 minutes at Minnesota on Tuesday night and they never got over the hump. After taking control, the Golden Gophers held the Hoos at bay at every turn to pull out a 66-56 win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“It’s a good win for us against a quality team,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “It’s huge because we want to hold [up] our end of the bargain in [The ACC-Big Ten Challenge]. It’s a match-up between premier conferences in the country. This is one which helps us understand we can play with those teams at that level.”
While the Gophers were enjoying the win that pushed them to their first 7-0 start since the 1976-77 season, UVa left the cold Midwest with its third straight loss and a need for greater consistency once the exam break (the team doesn’t play again until Dec. 17) ends. The Cavaliers own a 3-3 record and have yet to forge an identity in those six contests. They started the same line-up in consecutive games for the first time Tuesday and minutes continue to fluctuate. For example, they played small ball with Mike Scott at center in two games against Liberty and VMI. Players like Mamadi Diane , Jeff Jones , and Mustapha Farrakhan have been everything from starters to barely playing depending on the game you’re referencing.
Early in the season, that’s to be expected, particularly with a young and inexperienced group like Virginia, but coach Dave Leitao said he’s looking for consistent effort and production.
“I think one of the issues we’re trying to get to the point of is if you talk about guys you can depend on, that’s an every day thing,” Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network. “I’m not yet comfortable with a bunch of guys that are night in and night out are going to bring it from an effort standpoint. You may not be able to make shots, you can miss free throws, or something may not happen for you statistically, but I’m a big believer that effort is an every day thing. It manifests itself on the defensive end, in rebounding, and playing hard. And we have not got a collective group together that does that every day. If you’re in a foxhole with a guy on the left and a guy on the right and you don’t know if he’s protecting your rear end every day, that’s a hard thing. We’ve got to find our way and fight our way through that.”
UVa committed 19 turnovers and shot 31.4% in the loss.
The inconsistency issues were clearly evident against the Golden Gophers. Virginia jumped out to an early advantage, taking a 16-11 lead near the midpoint of the first half. But Minnesota put the clamps on defensively to ignite a 15-2 run en route to build an eight-point lead (26-18); during that stretch, UVa went scoreless for more than four minutes. The Cavaliers followed that with a 9-2 spurt of their own to get back in it by halftime, but the second half featured more of the same.
The visitors would score a few points to close the gap, but then have long droughts without points and a handful of defensive breakdowns would allow the Minnesota lead to swell again. Each time, the Hoos’ offensive woes were highlighted by turnovers, poor decisions, and ill-advised shot attempts. In the end, Minnesota’s heavy ball pressure forced 19 turnovers and prevented the Cavaliers from finding any semblance of rhythm on offense.
In fact, if Jamil Tucker hadn’t knocked down some 3-pointers out of pick-and-pop sets, the Cavs probably would have lost by much more than the 10-point margin that shuffled out in the end. Tucker made a career-high 4 3-pointers to lead Virginia with 12 points. Sammy Zeglinski and Sylven Landesberg added 10 points each. Landesberg also tied Scott for the team lead in rebounds; both players had 6.
“Offensively, we gave the ball back 19 times and there were probably another dozen times where we took bad shots or untimely shots and so as a result, you don’t give yourself a chance to be successful,” Leitao said.