The No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers dropped just their second game of the season on Saturday night, once again losing to the Duke Blue Devils. Virginia was playing catchup to Duke all night thanks to some hot shooting from the visiting squad.
Here are some takeaways from the game:
Duke needed an otherworldly performance to win
Look, Duke is very good. When you have guys like Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, you’re tough to beat. When that same Duke team shoots 62% from three (16-of-23) from three, you have to be perfect to beat them, which Virginia certainly was not.
“As good as the game in Durham was, this was better,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the game. “I thought both teams played outstanding basketball tonight.”
Duke came into the game shooting 30% from three. Virginia was only allowing opponents to shoot 25% from three. Any which way you look at it, it was a statistical outlier. Granted, Virginia could have closed out a little faster or harder on some of Duke’s made threes, but the game plan was sound. In Durham, Duke got what the wanted at the rim. Coach Bennett “I thought we were a little slow to our closeouts,” Coach Bennett said of the three-point defense after the game. “We really tried to keep them out of the lane and jam the lane, and we probably overcorrected in terms of that.”
Virginia shot 47% from the field and 42% from three for the game, which isn’t anything to shake a stick at. Despite Duke’s hot shooting, the Hoos kept the pressure on down the stretch.
This was actually one of the better performances against Zion Williamson this season as the Hoos held the superstar to 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting. His eight shot attempts tied his season-low for the season. But, he also did this:
Easily the turning point of this game, and perhaps the same for the rest of America on Zion’s NBA potential. pic.twitter.com/VTtiLZRVBr— Clinton Yates (@clintonyates) February 10, 2019
I mean...come on.
No Mamadi, mo problems
When Mamadi Diakite left the game with 4:40 left to play in the first half, you could tell there was something up. He collided with teammate De’Andre Hunter on a hand-off, sending the redshirt third year to the floor in pain.
Diakite left the game and didn’t return in the second half. It was a huge blow for the Hoos not just in terms of depth, but also for the fact that Diakite scored seven of Virginia’s first nine points (including a three) and was playing well defensively.
This is a tough pill to swallow as Ty Jerome was a question mark coming into tonight’s game thanks to a lingering back issue. Going forward, the Hoos have to quick-turn to Chapel Hill on Monday night for another top-ten conference tilt.
Winning later is what’s important
Don’t misunderstand me. Virginia will win plenty more games and is still one of the top three best teams in the country. What’s important now is that this squad is right for the postseason. We’ve done the “dominate the regular season” and “win the ACC” thing. That’s great. I love it. We should do it again. But what’s important now is the health and stamina for this team heading into March.
I don’t believe that a single elimination tournament is the end all, be all for assessing a program, coach, or team. Unfortunately, many out there do believe that. If we want the “this style doesn’t work” folks to pipe down, Virginia has to win in the NCAA tournament. It’s that simple (minus the, you know, incredibly difficult part of actually winning in the NCAA tournament).
In order for this team to reach their full potential, the Hoos have to be healthy. Right now, that’s not the case. Wear and tear and conference grind catches up to squads at this point in the season, and Virginia is no different. Being 100% for the NCAA tournament should be what’s priority No. 1 as fans, so maybe we have to deal with a loss here or there.
It’s hard to not walk away from that one and just think, “Well damn, Duke just shot lights out. What can you even do?”