Learning curve for Virginia more pronounced

UVA basketball“Beating Virginia at Virginia,” said South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin, “it’s a great day for our basketball team.”

Jair Borden scored 22 points, A.J Lawson added 14, and the Gamecocks shot a season-high 55.1 percent from the floor, and led for 37 minutes and essentially had their way in a 70-59 win over Virginia here Sunday afternoon.

USC lead by as many as 13 points in the second half before the Cavaliers showed a glimmer of a team playing like the defending national champs. Virginia stormed back, going on a 16-3 run to knot the game at 45 with just over 11 minutes left.

JPJ was rocking, the Gamecocks appeared on the ropes. Not so. South Carolina connected on seven straight shots and the lead exploded back to 11 with 3:57 remaining. Game.

Virginia did go a 4-0 run to pull to with seven briefly, but to remove any doubt, on the next possession, Carolina’s Jermaine Couisnard  was on the receiving end of a Borden air-ball and laid in the miss. The crowd then proceeded to find the exits.

With the loss Virginia saw its non-conference win streak end at 22 straight, as the Gamecocks became the first team to crack the 70-point mark since last February when Duke claimed an 81-71 win.

But that was Duke, last season’s odds-on favorite to win the title. This was South Carolina, a pedestrian 7-4 entering the game, including a 20-point loss to Houston.

Simply put, South Carolina appeared to want this game more. Hard to argue this. The Gamecocks jumped out to an early lead, led 33-24 at the break, scoring more in the half than any Virginia foe this season.

USC forced Virginia into 19 turnoverss; many were unforced, which at times seemed to shock the JPJ fateful into stunned silence.

“Credit to South Carolina,” said Virginia’s Tony Bennett. “They played really hard, pressured us into turnovers and shot the ball very well.”

If there were any doubts as to how the 2019-2020 Cavalier basketball team would fare, it was on full display here this afternoon.

Offensively challenged? We figured this. Losing three players to the NBA might take the wind out of your sails a bit.

But as perplexing, maybe more so for Virginia, is its sudden disrespect for protecting the basketball. Nineteen turnovers, a few simply mental errors, they call them unforced to soften the blow a bit. And giving the ball back wasn’t just a fluke here today.

Virginia had 16 turnovers against Purdue and committed double-digit miscues in three other games this season, all wins. But the poor ball protection bite them badly against USC.

“Our assist-to-turnover ratio has been poor all season,” said Bennett. “Sixteen fast-break points, you’re not going to win against a quality opponent doing that,” noted Bennett.

So Virginia, we have a problem. Eleven games into the season presents a fairly strong sample size; you start to get a pretty good idea of what you have. And the rent-a-win teams on your schedule are just about done. After next week, almost every opponent becomes a quality opponent.

It’s pretty evident that some players are carrying a heavy load, and may be on overload. Bennett said as much, especially about returning point guard Kihei Clark.

“We’re asking a lot of (Clark), and he’s using his quickness at times, he’s an excellent penetrator, but when he gets in traffic, he probably needs to get it up a little sooner,” stated Bennett.

Kody Stattman, a seldom-used reserve last season, is now cast into a starting role, and just doesn’t seemed to have embraced that responsibility yet. After nailing a three to open the contest, Stattman attempted only one shot the remaining 19-plus minutes of the first half.

Caesy Morsell, a freshman, while solid on defense, is still looking to find his shot, a shot that earned him player of the year in Washington, D.C., last season.

Last season, with an abundance of offensive talent ,Virginia possessed some players were afforded the luxury of being limited minutes type players, defensive specialists.

This season, with most of the offense having left, the Cavaliers need multiple players to be instant multi-dimensional players. What they could really use is a learning curve. But that’s what the early season is often about, a time to “learn on the job”.

One game left before the continuation of a grueling 20-game ACC schedule awaits: the learning curve is gone. Time for the Cavaliers to take their exam, 18 more times.

Story by Chris Graham

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