In a back and forth contest, the Virginia Cavaliers dropped a disappointing game to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 69-65. The ‘Hoos had opportunities to pull out the win but couldn’t string together enough offense to come out on top.
Big men give Virginia a chance
While UVA’s offense largely struggled throughout the first half, the Wahoo bigs kept the team alive with nine offensive rebounds which produced 14 second class points.
Much of that was Jayden Gardner as the East Carolina transfer finished with 22 points on 10-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and five on the offensive glass. His relentlessness on the boards was the team’s saving grace.
Francisco Caffaro had himself a game as well, totaling 11 points and 12 rebounds for his first career double double. He was agile in the post and made some nice plays while coming up big on the glass.
But, eventually, the offensive rebounding well dried up and the Wahoo attack lost any steam it had in the first half. Gardner and Caffaro remained productive but UVA didn’t have anything else going offensively.
Notre Dame is too talented
As this win gives the Irish their tenth in eleven games, Notre Dame is on a roll right now as the dangerous offensive weapons that populate its roster are meshing together at the right time. With freshman phenom Blake Wesley leading the way, this offensive is incredibly dynamic and boasts talent all over the court.
Prentiss Hubb is a great veteran guard presence. Dane Goodwin and Trey Wertz are good as 3-and-D wings. Nate Laszewski is the perfect modern big and Paul Atkinson is smooth as a scoring big.
Against a flawed pack-line defense, that group thrived and exploited the defensive issues this team has been experiencing all season long. It’s a shame that Virginia couldn’t put up a more spirited performance especially considering that the ‘Hoos will face even more talented offenses in the near future.
The most frustrating element of this game was that the ‘Hoos absolutely had opportunities to win this game. In fact, the Wahoos’ late push meant that they were just a couple of Notre Dame missed free throws away from pushing the game to overtime. But too many offensive mistakes and a few made shots from the Irish sealed the deal.
Guards’ disappointing play is worrying
Considering how dependent the UVA offense is on contributions from a variety of players, the poor play of Kihei Clark and Armaan Franklin was a killer for the Wahoos against the Irish.
Clark scored 12 on the night on 4-8 shooting and just 3-6 success from the free throw line while he also turned the ball over 3 times. To his credit, the senior did come on late in the second half. He displayed just how high his highs can be. But, simultaneously, his struggles for the first 80% of the contest really limited this offense and meant that the comeback was too little too late.
Franklin was seemingly non-existent all night as he put up 5 points and struggled from the floor as he finished 2-11 with 3 turnovers of his own.
In college basketball, guards win games. In the Virginia basketball program, experienced guards win championships. On this team, veteran guards have often been weak links and that’s a significant cause behind Virginia’s struggles this season.
It’s going to take a miracle to make the tournament
Virginia has eight games remaining in the regular season. Now standing at 12-9 overall and 6-5 in the ACC, the ‘Hoos need to make their run now. Whether that comes in the form of enough big wins to warrant being on the bubble or at least hitting a rhythm that puts them in a decent position to win the ACC tournament and receive an auto-bid.
With four games against the likes of Miami and Duke along with one against Florida State, there are opportunities for Virginia to win games against good teams. But it’s going to take a lot for this team to reverse course this late in the season.