Carolina Cuts Down UVa Again

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Jeff Jones scored in double figures (19) for the second straight game.

Familiar offensive struggles hampered a strong defensive effort as Virginia failed to stop what is now a seven-game skid. The Cavaliers fell at No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday 76-61. For the first time in five games, however, Virginia trailed by under double digits entering halftime. The close margin was thanks in large part to Virginia’s impressive first half showing on defense.

In fact, Virginia’s zone defense limited the Tar Heels to 33.3% shooting in the first half with five steals. The zone surrounded UNC’s inside players and succeeded early in stopping the Tar Heels’ perimeter game, a feat that the Hoos were unable to execute with as much success in the second half. Virginia’s defensive efforts overall showed improvement from last month’s rout at JPJA as the Hoos rotated well, got back on transition defense, and kept Tyler Hansbrough (15 points) relatively quiet. Carolina’s 76 points set its season low.

“We talked a lot about it [transition defense] and I think they listened as opposed to not being able to do it the first time,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network. “Again I think once we were able to identify where Lawson was and get somebody in front of him and allowed our defense to get back and settle into our zone spots and not give them the opportunity to drive.”

Despite the reasonable defensive effort, however, Virginia still fell behind by intermission and the margin grew in the second half. The culprit? The Cavaliers’ inability to put up points, which left them down by eight at the half and hampered any comeback efforts in the second frame. The Cavs’ offensive problems weren’t helped by stingy Tar Heel defense that didn’t allow many open looks.

Throughout the game, the Cavaliers found themselves struggling to penetrate into the paint with any regularity, resulting in missed offensive opportunities. In addition, the Hoos only made their way to the line seven times, compared to Carolina’s 17 free throws. Virginia found limited offensive success from beyond the arc, shooting 10 of 20 from 3-point land.

Leitao altered his normal starting line-up against the Heels, opting to go with a line-up similar to the second half of last Wednesday’s loss to Boston College. The change gave junior Solomon Tat his first career start and Jeff Jones his first start of the season. Jones responded by leading the team in scoring with 19 points, his season high and career-ACC high. Leitao told the Virginia Sports Radio Network after the game that the move was an effort to try to limit “flatness,” which hurts the team in the early going.

“I’m trying to address that issue as much as anything else so we can start the game with guys that are going to give the most energy,” he said. “It may not be permanent. It may not even be the best players. But I believe in energy and passion so if they bring that to the table, then we can use that to get us off to not just a better start but to play better then that’s what we’ll do.”

The Cavaliers will need that energy and passion as they look to break their losing streak. Next up is a trip to Florida State on Wednesday night. Virginia will need to continue to make adjustments as it faces the Seminoles for a second time, Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network.

“Similar to this game tonight with North Carolina, you have a chance to correct some things that you did not do so well,” he said. “Carolina last time out, transition was a big problem. I thought we addressed it and did a better job of that today. Against Florida State, keeping Douglas under wraps on the defensive side and then executing because they are a very good defensive team is something that we have to address. So we’ll get back to Charlottesville and address that right away and we have two days to get ready.”

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