The Virginia Cavaliers season ended far too soon, as the team fell 60-54 in the round of 32 against Michigan State in Charlotte. The team fell behind early and couldn't quite gut out a comeback effort against March magician Tom Izzo. UVA ends the season at 30-4.
|GAME STATS:||Michigan State|
|Points Per Possession||.99||1.15|
|Offensive Rebound %||41.9%||25.0%|
The much-anticipated rematch between UVA and MSU got off to a bad start quickly for the Hoos, as Travis Trice scored 13 points on 5-5 shooting over the first 6 minutes, including ten unanswered points to give the Spartans a 15-4 lead. The Hoos simply never recovered from that deficit, as they spent the next 35 minutes or so scratching and clawing but never managing to fully complete a comeback effort.
UVA's best shot at that comeback came early in the second half, when a Justin Anderson layup cut the MSU lead to two points, and a chance at the lead when an open Malcolm Brogdon three-point attempt went up in the air. Like most UVA shot attempts, the ball bounced out, and Michigan State put together a quick 8-0 run to pull in firmly in front, extending its lead to as many as 12 points. Another Virginia mini-run made it a game again, but the margin simply bounced around between 4 and 8 points, as UVA couldn't make the big shot to take the lead; in fact, UVA simply didn't make any shots for a ten minute period late in the second half, relying on trips to the free-throw line to keep up.
Virginia had a great game on the boards, pulling in 42% of their misses to Michigan State's 25%. And they played another clean game, turning the ball over on under 10% of its possessions. But that effort was trumped by the team's inability to make shots. Making 38% of its 2s and 12% (2-17) of its 3s, Virginia was able to hang in the game, but never put together the Cavalanche it needed.
Darion Atkins was the only Hoo that put together a game to be proud of. He scored 10 on 4-10 shooting, while also hauling in 14 rebounds, half on offense, and played outstanding defense, including this monster block:
UVA caught a terrible break when another clean block was ruled to be Darion's 4th foul, sending him to the bench when he was needed most. (The officials had another rough day, including granting Tom Izzo a timeout while the ball bounced along the court, neither team in possession).
Besides that, Anthony Gill led the team with 11 points on 3-9 shooting, while Malcolm Brogdon had 9 (3-12), Anderson 8 (2-7), and London Perrantes 5 (2-10). That's not good enough to win. Atkins's 40% shooting night was the team's best besides Evan Nolte, who made one of his two attempts just before the final buzzer.
March Madness is a brutal time of year for a sport that's pretty wild to begin with. In January, UVA was at least the second best team in the nation, with an elite offense (that's right - ranked as high as #5 on KenPom) to go with its elite defense. From that point on, the team lost its best player to a broken hand, then an appendectomy, but weathered the storm to lose just 2 tough ones down the stretch. The team won the ACC regular season but was still given a #2 seed, and screwed even further with a matchup against a Michigan State team that is way better than the #7 seed assigned, and coached by a man who couldn't lose games before the Sweet 16 if he tried. UVA gave its best effort, but couldn't buy a bucket and lost a 53 possession ballgame. Crazy things happen in college basketball. Randomness abounds.
These aren't meant to be "excuses," - obviously Michigan State played better and deserved to win, while UVA just didn't. But it is just what makes college basketball so great...and also why we have these terrible feelings in our stomachs. The sport isn't designed to be "fair," and that's pretty fun sometimes. The pain of defeat doesn't erase the accomplishments the team made this season, the run they had, or the good times they gave us. Thanks to Darion Atkins for a great career, and the rest of the players and coaches for an awesome season. It'll be a long 8 months 'til the next one starts, and I can't wait.