Gators End UVa’s Stay In Big Dance

Mike Scott and the Hoos ended the season with a loss to Florida.

All season long, scoring droughts and opponents that could spread the floor enough to stretch the Pack-Line defense gave Virginia fits. So when both of those elements appeared once again in the NCAA Tournament matchup with Florida on Friday, the Cavaliers couldn’t overcome the challenges and fell in lopsided fashion. The Gators rolled to a 71-45 victory in the Midwest Regional as the Hoos’ return to the Big Dance ended quickly.

UVa coach Tony Bennett said his team just couldn’t find an answer to counter Florida’s attack.

“Certainly we were thoroughly outplayed. I told our guys I felt like we were better than we showed, but certainly I give the credit to Florida,” Bennett said. “They were the aggressor, they got the ball either in the paint or to the paint and we didn’t have an answer so I was frustrated especially for these guys, for Mike [Scott] and Sammy [Zeglinski] to have the opportunity to get here. I think in time the sting will go away and they will be thankful for this opportunity but you saw a team that really took it to us and we did not have an answer.”

The Gators took an aggressive approach against the Hoos’ usually stingy defense. They used a variety of on-ball screens and direct one-on-one drives to get into the teeth of the D. With multiple 3-point shooting threats on the floor, these dribbles into the paint area created space for players to finish shots. Even when the Cavaliers bottled up the initial drive and defended the 3-point line well – the Gators made just 4 of 23 triples, a number well below their season average of 9.9 made treys per game – UF’s players crashed the glass and used the space to score on stickbacks.

Florida made 52.8% of its shots inside the 3-point line (28 of 53). It also posted 12 second-chance points. All of that added up to 44 points in the paint, just one point shy of Virginia’s total scoring output for the entire game.

The on-ball screen defense seemed to be the biggest culprit in Virginia’s eyes. One wrinkle in particular caused all kinds of problems as the Gators frequently used consecutive on-ball screens to pull two defenders out of Pack-Line positioning by forcing back-to-back hedge responsibilities (hedge means to jump out into the path of the dribbler).

Sammy Zeglinski moved into 11th place on the career assists chart.

“No, we weren’t surprised [by Florida’s driving ability]. We did a good job defending the 3-pointer, but way too many drives to the basket and we didn’t do enough of a good job on ball screens,” Zeglinski said.

“I just kept thinking, I hedged on a lot of ball screens, I could have done better on ball screens,” Scott said.

“They looked as the game wore on certainly a step quicker and faster and they’re athletic and their perimeters are very good off the dribble and you could feel their quickness but I think their energy level stayed at a high level and I think we probably wore down and it really showed up defensively as much as
offensively where they were – that’s the most I’ve seen the ball touch the paint against our defense, whether it’s just a post feed, ball screen defense or just guys beating us off the dribble and we didn’t
have an answer and that was frustrating because that’s something we have established and has been good for us all year,” Bennett said. “That’s the one thing we have had and that was not present and when that is not present the separation occurs and we didn’t have enough to reel it back in.”

“I don’t think we did a good job on ball screen defense but guarding their 3’s, early I thought we were on top of all their 3’s,” Bennett said later. “I thought as we wore down and the game moved on they just missed, they were penetrate and go we were on a Yo-Yo, and I almost think, and you can ask [coach] Billy [Donovan] that they just thought they were going to attack them and get to the paint and go at us. That exposed us.”

While the Cavaliers struggled on defense, they didn’t have enough offensive firepower to keep pace with the Gators. After scoring 16 points in the first 10 minutes to lead 16-13, Virginia scored just 29 points in the game’s final 30 minutes. That included three buckets in the last 10 minutes of the first half, which featured droughts of 4:08 and 3:36 without points as Florida rallied to take a 30-22 lead into intermission.

The second half wasn’t much better when UVa posted scoreless streaks of 5:06 and 3:42. In fact, both of those periods came after Zeglinski hit a pair of 3-pointers within 28 seconds of each other to make the score 36-30. While the Hoos sputtered offensively over the next 8:48 with just two baskets for four points, Florida dropped in 17 points of its own to effectively put the game away with a 53-34 advantage.

In the end, Virginia shot just 38.3% for the game with a dismal 16.7% showing from 3-point range to boot. Scott provided the only double-figure outing of the night with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and the Gators double-teamed the Cavaliers’ senior star repeatedly to keep him from attempting more shots. Scott, who also tied a career-high with 3 steals and added 6 rebounds too, scored in double figures 29 times in 32 games this season.

Scott finishes his career in third place, one spot ahead of Junior Burrough, on Virginia’s career rebounding list with 944 boards. He also claimed 16th place on the career scoring list with 1,538 points, just ahead of Donald Hand and Othell Wilson. Scott is just the 33rd player in ACC history to record 1,500 career points and 900 career rebounds.

“He’s carried us all year. … You’ve seen that and he’s had a terrific year and there wasn’t a lot of help for him, but I think he will remember this senior year as a special one, as I will,” Bennett said.

Indeed, as had been the case in some of the Hoos’ previous nine losses this season, Scott didn’t get enough offensive support Friday. Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski posted 8 points each, while Joe Harris added 7 as the only other players to score more than 5 points. Of that trio, only Evans had an efficient night of production by shooting 4 of 6 from the floor. Zeglinski made just 3 of 11 attempts, including 2 of 10 tries from beyond the arc. Harris knocked down just 2 of 9 shots and missed all 5 of his attempts from 3-point range.

Zeglinski did have 5 assists to move into 11th place on Virginia’s career assists list with 314, sliding past Cornel Parker (313, 1991-94).

For Zeglinski and fellow senior Scott, it was a disappointing way to end their Cavalier careers. But as they exited the game with 1:32 to go, the duo tried to focus on what this season had meant overall. With a 22-10 final record, these Hoos posted the program’s most wins since 25 in 1994-95. Plus, they helped UVa get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.

For two careers challenged by a coaching change, a tough amount of losses, and injuries, this season provided a bit of redemption.

“Just a lot of memories. I’ve been a part of Virginia for the past five years, some good memories, some bad memories,” Zeglinski said.”I was fortunate to have a chance to play for Coach Bennett and serve this team and it was tough to end this way but I liked what I was a part of.”

“Just like Sammy said, the memories definitely came to my mind, playing with Coach, how we all have grown,” Scott said.

Final Stats