For the first time since 2011, the Virginia Cavalier Men’s Lacrosse team is in the NCAA tournament semifinals. The Hoos would go on to win it all that season, beating Maryland 9-7 on Memorial Day to bring home the title.
This year, Virginia downed Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals in one of the most exciting and dramatic games of the season (if not the past few seasons), and will face another very familiar foe in the Duke Blue Devils.
Virginia will have to overcome some personal demons against the Blue Devils in Saturday’s game. To say the series has been uneven over the last decade and a half is an huge understatement as Duke has won 19 of the last 20 meetings and 11 straight. The last win over the Blue Devils came in the 2010 ACC tournament, with the current losing streak starting with a brutal last-second loss in the 2010 NCAA tournament semifinals.
Here’s the history between the two teams in the last 20 matchups (if you can bear it):
Virginia vs. Duke (2005-Present)
|2010 (NCAA Semis)||13||14||L||1|
“I try not to get too much into that,” Coach Lars Tiffany said of the not-so-stellar history with Duke over the last 15 years. “They’re just the next obstacle in our path. They’re a very good obstacle.”
Duke has won by an average of 5.68 goals per game in the wins over the Hoos, and that’s about what it was when the two teams met in the regular season. Things were close for the first half as the score was tied 5-5 at the break, but Duke outscored Virginia 7-2 over the final two quarters to take a 12-7 win in Durham. It was one of Virginia’s three losses on the season, and their first loss since dropping an overtime stunner against High Point on February 18.
Virginia was not at full strength in that April 13 meeting as attackman Michael Kraus was sidelined with an ankle injury. With 35 goals and 32 assists on the season, Kraus is a huge piece of a Virginia offense that will need to be on point as they face two of the toughest defenders in Duke’s Cade Van Raaphorst and J.T. Giles-Harris.
Now fully healthy, Virginia’s potent attack — which scores 14.22 goals per game — will have a chance at revenge against the Blue Devils.
“Yeah, we all wanted this,” second year Matt Moore said of the matchup with Duke. “Looking back on the tournament when the seedings came out...you know you’re not supposed to look ahead, but you know we did. We took one game at a time, but that first meeting we had after that [the bracket being announced], we did the math, we figured out we’d be playing Duke in the Final Four. We were excited.”
Keys to the game:
Ground balls - Virginia doesn’t often get out-ground balled by opponents, but that’s what happened Saturday against Maryland. The Terps built their 12-7 lead in part because they were first to every loose ball. The Hoos are second in the nation (behind Hampton) with 41.06 ground balls per game, with Duke coming in at No. 25 with 32.65.
Duke held the 39-30 edge in April’s meeting.
Settled offense - The Hoos will have to fare better in the settled 6 vs. 6 offense against Duke than they did against Maryland, where they scored just four of their 13 goals in non-chaotic fashion. Virginia will absolutely still thrive in unsettled situations, especially fast breaks and taking advantage of broken clears. But the settled offense needs to be sharp against a tough Duke defense.
“Our 6v6 offense has to be better,” Tiffany stated. “Duke’s defense is playing at a really high level, and they continue to prove they’re one of the best defenses in the nation with a really good goalie behind them. The first time we played Duke, we weren’t trusting our 6v6, partially because Michael Kraus wasn’t playing, so we wanted to play super fast. We still want to take advantage of opportunities like that, but we’ve also got to say, ‘Fellas, we’ve got to trust.’”
Face offs - Sensing a theme? Smart possession is key for this game if Virginia wants to win. Petey LaSalla has been an absolute revelation for the Hoos, winning 60.4% of his face offs on the season. Against Maryland in the fourth quarter and overtime, LaSalla won 8-of-9 face offs and was instrumental in the dramatic comeback.
According to Coach Tiffany, LaSalla has not only improved on his clamp — the initial move to trap the ball — but he has added techniques to ensure his teammates (or himself) have the best opportunity at the ball off the X.
In the four post season games, LaSalla is winning 58% of face offs taken. Against Duke in the first matchup, he went 15-for-22 against the Blue Devils.
Virginia and Duke square off in Philadelphia on Saturday at noon. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.