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The basics of the Pack Line never clicked for this Virginia team

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Ben Vander Plas drives baseline on Virginia’s Sam Hauser. (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Something Ohio coach Jeff Boals said postgame about Virginia’s lineup and Jay Huff still has my attention a couple of days into the post-mortem.

“When they went small, we got kind of discombobulated,” Boals said. “When Huff came back in the game, we were able to do some things, put Dwight Wilson back in there.”

I’ve gone back to the play-by-play to see when Huff checked out and then back in. I didn’t remember that he’d checked out with his third foul with 16:55 left in the second half, the foul a particularly dumb one, leaving his feet on a pump fake from 6’3” guard Lunden McDay.

It was 32-29 when he committed the foul, and after McDay made the two free throws, it was 32-31.

Sam Hauser hit a turnaround jumper on Virginia’s next possession to make it 34-31, and then after an Ohio turnover, Boals subbed out Wilson for 6’1” guard Mark Sears, trying to counter UVA coach Tony Bennett, who had replaced Huff with 6’4” guard Casey Morsell.

The Bobcats went scoreless for nearly four minutes before the small-ball lineups settled things with the ‘Hoos up 40-37 when Huff came back in with 9:22 to go.

Boals immediately subbed in Wilson, and it was here that the game turned.

You could call it a 10-0 Ohio run, but it took the Bobcats five and a half minutes to get those 10 points, so it wasn’t as much the run as Ohio scoring 10 points in five and a half minutes, and Virginia coming up empty on seven possessions in that stretch, missing six shots and committing one turnover.

The offense numbers in the final 9:22 – 7-of-17 shooting, 18 points, 1.125 points per possession – look better than they should because three of the makes came in the final 21 seconds with Ohio overemphasizing not fouling shooters.

The defense numbers are atrocious: Ohio was 8-of-11 from the floor in the final 9:22, scored 25 points, 1.563 points per possession.

The momentum-turner was the layup by Wilson with 2:42 to go, out of a timeout by Boals following a three from Trey Murphy III that had cut the Ohio lead to 49-47.

This quote from Boals about that play will … depress you.

“Out of the timeout, that was a designed play. They started trapping that ball screen. It was a wide open pass down low. That was a huge bucket for us,” Boals said.

If you remember the play, simple pick-and-roll with Jason Preston and Wilson. Wilson set the screen, UVA defended it the way UVA defends pick-and-rolls, hard-hedging Huff to double-team the ball.

What has to happen behind that action is there needs to be help from the backside defenders to chip the screener from getting unimpeded to the basket to allow Huff time to recover.

It’s the most basic thing in the Pack Line defense that there is.

The Pack Line is designed to take away the high screen-and-roll with the hard hedge, take away post offense with post-to-post doubles, make opponents waste seconds on the 30-second shot clock trying to get anything going, forcing them into end of shot clock jumpers – twos or threes, it doesn’t matter.

This year’s Virginia team never got the basics down.

And Jeff Boals knew that, and used that to his advantage, on this play and Ohio’s next offensive possession, which ended with a backdoor layup by Ben Roderick, off another pass from Preston, off another botched defense of a high screen-and-roll.

I should correct myself here and say, the best UVA lineup, on paper, never got the basics down.

Remember how Bennett finished out the regular-season finale win over Louisville a couple of weeks back?

He had Huff and Hauser on the bench for almost the entire final 10 minutes, going with a small-ball, defense-first lineup with his best on-ball defenders – Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae – holding down the fort.

When Bennett subbed Huff back in at the 9:22 mark Saturday night, he was sacrificing defense for offense.

The gamble didn’t pay off because the shots didn’t fall.

Virginia shot 35 percent from the field, 8-of-31 from three – and 47 of the 60 shots were two- or three-point jumpers.

Ohio Pack Lined UVA a smidge better than UVA Pack Lined Ohio – the Bobcats’ shooting profile was 42 percent from the field, 35 of their 50 shots being two- or three-point jumpers.

They only got to the rim two more times than the ‘Hoos – Ohio was 9-of-15 on shots at the rim; UVA was 7-of-13.

Those two botched hard hedges, the entirety of the final 9:22, that’s your 2020-2021 Virginia season, in two bites.

Story by Chris Graham

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