Xavier Topples Virginia

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Sylven Landesberg recorded 25 points, the seventh time this season he’s reached the twenties in the scoring column.

Less than one week after a surprising overtime win at Georgia Tech, the Virginia men’s basketball team produced another head scratcher Saturday against Xavier. Inconsistent defense and sluggish offense led to a huge deficit – the 16-point halftime margin was the largest of the season – and the Cavaliers never recovered against the Musketeers, who eventually picked up a deceptively close 84-70 victory.

“As I said coming into the year, unfortunately the down side of our youth is that we’re going to have days where we surprise ourselves and perform at a high level and there are going to be days, like today, that for whatever reasons, you don’t perform at the level you’re capable of,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “We just have to continue to work at it, to gain the proper experience necessary through good and bad situations and to learn and grow so we can continue to move forward.”

One team Virginia can learn from is Xavier. For two straight seasons, the Musketeers have put the clamps on the Cavaliers with a defense that leaves very few openings while moving the ball effectively on offense en route to high production. One year ago, Xavier held UVa to 37.9% shooting and torched the nets for 108 points in a 108-70 victory. On Saturday in the John Paul Jones Arena, the margin wasn’t as lopsided because the Ohio visitors didn’t shoot as well, but they duplicated the defensive effort and held the Hoos to 37.5% shooting.

“They are a terrific defensive team. They’re physical, they’re always in front of you, if you beat somebody there’s always a one or two-guy rotation, and they don’t give up 37 percent for nothing – it’s not false, it’s a real number,” Leitao said.

The smaller margin in 2009 is deceptive because Xavier controlled the contest in dominant fashion for the most part this season too. Once the lead grew to double figures, it never dipped below 10 points again and stood at 26 points at one stage in the second half. XU coach Sean Miller said his team played as well as it has this season for more than half of Saturday’s game.

“With the way we started, with the crowd ready and Virginia ready, we took that first punch so to speak, and sometimes you don’t get that back on the road. I thought once we got through the first four minutes, our team settled in and played our brand of basketball for about 24 minutes,” Miller said. “We had contributions from our bench, from our older players, defense, passing, playing with 10 turnovers. That 24 minutes was about as well as we have played all season.”

Mike Scott recorded 16 points and 5 rebounds against Xavier.

While Xavier was playing some of its best basketball, the Cavaliers struggled. They couldn’t consistently produce good shots and even when they did, they didn’t make very many of them. On the day, the Hoos made just 24 of 64 shots. Outside of three players, those numbers are even uglier than they already appear. Sylven Landesberg made 7 of 15 shots, Mike Scott knocked down 7 of 10 attempts, and Mamadi Diane scored on 3 of 4 shots – that’s 17 of 29 or 58.6%, meaning the rest of the team made just 7 of 35 shot attempts, a paltry 20%.

But that’s part of what has been plaguing Virginia during the 11 games so far this season – inconsistent scoring. Outside of Landesberg that is. The freshman wing has reached double figures in all but one game this season, scoring 20 points in seven games. That includes Saturday when Landesberg poured in 25 points; he made 10 of 11 free throws to tie a career-high for free throws made.

Still, Landesberg needs help. Teams are starting to put more and more emphasis on slowing him down and making his scoring more difficult to produce with paint-clogging help defense, a tactic Miller mentioned Saturday. Miller was impressed with the youngster.

“He’s certainly one of the best players that we’ve played against, regardless of whether he’s a freshman or not,” Miller said.

While Landesberg’s scoring has been consistent, the Cavaliers have not. One game, the defensive effort is strong and “sometimes we fall asleep on D” as Scott put it after Saturday’s game. Some games, the Hoos are scoring in transition and finding open shooters; in others, they’re passing the ball around passively and waiting for somebody to make something happen.

And that’s what is frustrating Leitao … and some of the Virginia players like Assane Sene . The effort and production just isn’t there on a game-to-game basis.

“When you don’t play defense well, it puts pressure on your offense. I thought that early on that was part of the problem – that we weren’t defending like we know that we needed to, and then when you don’t have success on that end for us – a lot of teams, but us especially – we generally speaking don’t have a lot of success on the offensive end either,” Leitao said. “We’ll have to see what the answer to that is.”

“Every time I go hard, I want all my players to go hard like me,” said Sene, who set a career high with 11 rebounds. “If they play hard, we can beat any team over here. But if they don’t help, I get mad, and all of them, they know if I get mad, how I don’t like to lose and stuff like that.”

Sabre correspondent Paul Montana contributed to this story.

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