Cyclones Breeze Past Virginia

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KT Harrell led the Hoos with 9 points against ISU.

With Mike Scott sitting again, the Virginia men’s basketball team’s recent struggles continued on Thursday night as Iowa State popped into town and dropped the Cavaliers 60-47. UVa scored a paltry 15 points in the first half and managed just 45 overall, both home records for futility in the John Paul Jones Arena as the December doldrums on offense extended through another miserable shooting night.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said cold shooting is difficult to overcome, particularly when you don’t have a consistent paint threat like Scott on the court.

“It’s a challenge certainly without Mike [Scott] and with Will Sherrill coming back and not at full strength, but we have to make some shots and we have to work to get good looks,” Bennett said. “You have to try to get into the paint, maybe off the dribble – Assane [Sene] made one and Will Regan had a good post move. But without Mike, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record, that’s an area of concern for us, trying to get an inside-outside attack. Now there’s a little more pressure on your defense when you get cold and that’s difficult. We need to keep going to the drawing board to get good looks.”

Bennett said the Hoos are back to square one and in wait-and-see mode with Scott moving forward this season.

“He played against Seattle and felt great after the game – no swelling – and the guys went home and had a few days off for the Christmas break. The ankle didn’t swell and he felt great and better than ever. He practiced for a little bit and then all of a sudden had a major setback and whatever the case was, it locked up and now we’re back to square one,” Bennett said. “We need to keep taking a look at it and see where it’s at. It’s unfortunate. I know he’s discouraged and certainly I am, but we just have to take a good look at it, and we won’t put him in harm’s way.”

UVa’s Assane Sene chipped in with 7 points.

While UVa waits to see how that shakes out, the offense will continue to face tough tests from teams keying on perimeter players. Opponents are challenging guards and wings to drive while tilting the defense toward Mustapha Farrakhan , Joe Harris , and other shooters. With the space significantly reduced without a low-post option, those players have had a tough go of it in recent outings.

Other than a solid night against Oregon (a 63-48 win) when they shot 50.0% from the floor, the Cavaliers have not found any sort of firepower offensively. Against Norfolk State (a 50-49 win thanks to a late Assane Sene tip-in), UVa converted just 35.2% of its shots. Even with Scott in the line-up against Seattle (a 59-53 loss), the Hoos shot a meager 30.2% from the field. With Thursday’s frigid 32.3% night now on the list, it’s been a long December of late for the Cavaliers. They have made a wince-worthy 55 of 169 shots in the last three games, a 32.5% clip that’s hard to overcome even if you hold teams under wraps on defense.

“At times we shoot it well in practice, at times we don’t. If you had seen Joe [Harris] yesterday in practice or two days ago, he was unbelievable. He didn’t miss,” Bennett said. “Shooting’s a funny thing. You have to shoot with confidence and get the quality shots when they’re there, but young guys and I think even some of our veteran guys get a little anxious because we’re relying on that and we can’t feed it down low. I think it affects us a little bit. Certainly we’ve worked at it and got extra reps. We even tried to introduce some competitive games and have fun with it. We’re struggling to knock down some rhythm shots.”

The Cyclones, meanwhile, eventually found a comfort level on offense and never really let the Hoos get off the mat after some early body blows. In the end, the visitors shot 46.0% from the floor and 38.1% from the 3-point line, but both numbers climbed in the second half (54.2% and 44.4% respectively) and the hosts only managed to rally to within 7 points.

While the second half effort kept the Hoos at bay, it was the early shooting of ISU’s Jamie Vanderbeken that hurt the most. Iowa State led 8-2, 14-4, and 21-6 with Vanderbeken leading the charge as his team led wire to wire. He opened the game with his team’s first 8 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. He finished 3 of 5 from downtown in the first half and eventually recorded a career-high 24 points on 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Vanderbeken added 8 rebounds and 2 blocks for good measure.

Much of the damage came by design. The Cyclones put the Hoos’ Pack-Line defense in numerous pick-and-pop situations, letting Vanderbeken set the screen then pop behind the line and away from the pack’s help. Time after time, he delivered.

ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said that the game plan involved the specific pick-and-pop strategy.

“We knew he was going to be able to get some shots. We knew they would show hard on pick-and-roll,” Hoiberg said. “If we could get space on the weak side through back, he was going to have some open shots, and he did that. I am proud of his confidence and he also got in there on the offensive boards.”

The Cavaliers said it’s tough to cover a hot-shooting post in those situations.

“If you have a team of good shooters, it’s going to be hard to guard in the first place and obviously Vanderbeken was on tonight,” said UVa’s Will Regan , who logged 7 points in 18 minutes. “When he’s popping, if you don’t show on the screen, then they can go. If you show on the screen, then he’s open. So it makes it difficult, especially if he’s a good shooter. You have to get back as quick as you can. It’s basically between you and the point guard or whoever is guarding the guy coming off the screen to fight through that screen. It’s difficult when you have a good shooter like that and a quick guard that can turn the corner. It’s a hard match-up to guard sometimes.”

The Hoos will try to improve on the defensive issues and offensive slump when the calendar turns to 2011. They host LSU on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

Final Stats

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