68-57. That’s a loss, and really, the game wasn’t this close. Sure, the Virginia Cavaliers made runs throughout the game. A 12-point second quarter deficit was cut down to three at the half and then Alexia Smith made the opening bucket of the second half. One-point deficit! It’s game time! Except it wasn’t. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons scored nine points in a couple of minutes as part of a 21-1 run. There was the inevitable Virginia comeback: the ‘Hoos got it down to a five-point deficit with 3:41 to play. And…. they didn’t score again.
Look, I love the effort. This team has faced incredible adversity this year, and the growth from last year is remarkable. But at some point, you have to grind it out, take care of business, shut it all down. Pick your euphemism. Realistically, Virginia hasn’t been in position to win most of these games lately.
London Clarkson was back. Always good to have her back in the mix. But Yonta Vaughn did not make the trip. That left Coach Agugua-Hamilton with just seven players. It wasn’t enough, unfortunately. And that’s just the reality this team has had to deal with considering the number injuries and
A full-strength Virginia team walloped these Deacons back before Thanksgiving, and the defining tactic from that game was how the women defended Jewel Spear, the ACC’s leading scorer last year. It was an extreme box-and-one with either Alexia Smith or Kayden Lawson face-guarding Spear. I mean, Smith and Lawson didn’t even look at the ball, they just got in Spear’s grill. It worked then. It did not on this day.
Maybe Spear got used to being guarded this way, but her cuts and motion left Smith and Lawson in the dust. By not watching the ball, UVA’s defenders had no idea what was going on, were getting beat, and then Cam Taylor, Taylor Valladay and McKenna Dale had to help, which meant they lost who they were guarding. First time out, that box-and-one was more of a zone box. This game, the box was more of a matchup-zone. Only Virginia didn’t really match up with anyone. Wake’s Olivia Summiel put on a clinic on how to move off the ball. Between her and Spear, the Virginia defense was in shambles.
I’ve written about this before, but I have to wonder just how much basketball these women watch. Anson Dorrance, arguably the greatest coach in NCAA history, and who has brought some of the greatest players in America to Raleigh, is constantly amazed by how naive some of his players are tactically, largely because they don’t watch much soccer.
Watching these women chase games late, forced into fouling to stop the clock, makes me wonder about their naivety. Three times Virginia allowed 30 cumulative seconds to spin off the clock. Just because... well, I don’t know. They would wait 12-15 seconds into the shot clock and then foul someone 10 feet beyond the arc. Why? Perhaps that’s a symptom of a program just getting back to being legitimately competitive, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on for next season.
The ACC tournament is one heck of a time to roll out your worst opening frame of the season. For the record, Cam Taylor scored six points in the first. The rest of the team? Two. That’s just putting yourself into too big a hole.
I can’t believe I’m listing this as a positive, but what this team lacks is readily identifiable. This team is bad from behind the arc. Cady Pauley was 2-5 from deep (and that’s been her clip the past three games.) But the team overall? 4-17. Whether you follow men’s or women’s hoops, that is abysmal for either gender.
And the second need? Some athleticism. Strength and battlers UVA’s got. The ‘Hoos need more team speed. They need more length. Spear, Summiel and Elise Williams were able to get into the lane whenever they wanted. Taylor Valladay can deny penetration from the wing, but she’s pretty much the only one. And Pauley has to play more, but she’s a defensive liability and needs coverage alongside her. As I said, the needs are apparent. Now Coach Mox has to go out and get it.
We’ll have to wait for the results of the NIT to see if Virginia is playing any further this year, but this team doesn’t look like a team that will be of interest to the selection committee. I have long since realized that coaches are much more in tune with their chances of postseason play than any fan, and it doesn’t sound like Coach Mox thinks we’ll be playing any more basketball.
“It’s been a long season. I think our players need a break, mentally and physically. Coaches and coaching staff need a break. But to end the season 15-15 after just winning five games last season is definitely a success. But we’ll be way better next year.”
We will be better next year. I’d bet Zach’s tuition money that we’re playing in the NCAAs next year. As a famous basketball coach once said in his first year at Virginia, “before you can win, you have to learn how to lose.” Mission accomplished. Next year will be a different story.