By Jeff White
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — In 11 days, most spent on the road, everything changed for the UVa men’s basketball team.
In that span, the Cavaliers lost five times, only once by fewer than 12 points. That was on Feb. 13 at Virginia Tech, where Virginia fell 61-55, a defeat that gave no hint of the problems to come.
Two days later, however, the Cavaliers lost by 19 points at Maryland, two days after that by 19 to visiting Florida State, three days after that by 23 at Clemson.
The Wahoos were more competitive on the final night of this grueling stretch, but the result was another defeat, their sixth straight overall.
“It’s tough to play five games in 11 days, but it’s what was presented to us,” center Jerome Meyinsse said after UVa’s 74-62 loss at ACC foe Miami. “We had no control over it.”
The rematch was nothing like the Jan. 16 game in which Virginia hammered the Hurricanes 75-57 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Miami took over in the second half Tuesday night and eased to a 74-62 victory before an indifferent crowd of 3,909 at the BankUnited Center.
“Obviously we had more energy [against Miami at JPJ],” said Tony Bennett, Virginia’s first-year coach.
“It’s a role reversal with us and Miami. We’re certainly struggling, and we need everybody to play well. When one or two of our key guys are off, it’s hard for us to overcome that.”
Virginia’s starting guards, Calvin Baker and Sammy Zeglinski, were a combined 3 for 16 from the floor. Even more damaging to UVa’s chances, however, was the play of its second-best offensive threat, Mike Scott.
Against an eminently beatable opponent, the 6-8 junior forward was a non-factor in his 22 minutes. Scott, who had scored at least 10 points in each of his previous eight games, was 0 for 7 from the floor against the ‘Canes (4-9, 18-9). He didn’t attempt a free throw.
“Mike Scott just had one of those games,” Miami coach Frank Haith said.
The timing could not have been worse for the Cavaliers (5-8, 14-12), who in the best of times lack an abundance of offensive weapons. Sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg shot brilliantly, hitting a career-high six 3-pointers, but overall the Wahoos made only 35.1 percent of their field-goal attempts.
Not since a Feb. 3 victory has UVa shot even 40 percent from the floor. The ‘Hoos haven’t won since then, either, but offense isn’t their only issue. Miami went 14 for 28 in the second half to break open a game that was 40-all with 12:35 left.
In each of the Cavaliers’ past four losses, their opponent has shot at least 47.5 percent from the floor.
“There’s some limitations, and we’re trying to make the most of it,” Bennett said. “We had two days to prepare hard [for Miami]. We tried to really work defensively, and work on some spacing offensively. I thought we got some good looks. I really did. If you get good looks, and you can’t knock ’em down, well, you gotta keep taking them.”
Meyinsse battled valiantly inside, totaling 13 points and 7 rebounds, both ACC highs for the senior from Baton Rouge, La., and he also had a career-best 3 assists. But with Scott out of sync, the ‘Canes outscored the ‘Hoos 36-16 in the paint.
“They’re athletic, and they’re strong in the interior,” Bennett said.
Between them, power forward Dwayne Collins and center Julian Gamble shot 13 for 19 from the floor, scored 31 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, dished out 8 assists and blocked 3 shots.
“I thought our bigs were outstanding,” Haith said.
So was Landesberg, who’d averaged only 9.7 points in his previous three games. Against Miami, he took a blow to his right thigh with 11:49 left in the first half, but persevered through the pain and had the best shooting night, by far, of his college career from long range.
Before Tuesday night, he’d never made more than three treys as a Cavalier. Landesberg went 6 for 8 from beyond the arc against the Hurricanes and finished with a game-high 27 points.
“I just felt real confident,” Landesberg said. “At shootaround today and practice yesterday, I got a few extra shots up, and that built my confidence.”
Bennett said: “Sylven shot the ball great, hit some tough shots, got some good looks. But it was hard for us. We didn’t get much inside.”
Landesberg’s floater with 13:52 left capped an 8-2 run that pulled UVa to 40-40. But Miami scored 18 of the next 23 points and then hit its free throws late to keep the Cavaliers at bay.
In a game in which Bennett tightened his rotation — Mustapha Farrakhan didn’t play, and Jontel Evans logged only three minutes — junior guard Jeff Jones came off the bench to contribute 11 points. Five of those points, however, came in the final 92 seconds, with the outcome decided.
His players’ effort was better against Miami than in the losses to Maryland, Florida State and Clemson, Bennett said, “but our execution wanes as the game gets real physical or gets later on, and that’s hurt us. We haven’t been able to keep up.
“Seems like we can only go so long and so far, and then it unravels a little bit on both ends.”
UVa has lost 12 consecutive games in the Sunshine State since winning at FSU on Feb. 17, 2001. It didn’t help Tuesday night that the Cavaliers were playing on the road for the fourth time in five games, or that they were playing for the fifth time in 11 days overall.
How big a factor was fatigue?
“I don’t know,” Bennett said. “I really don’t. I wish I could open up kids’ minds and hearts and see what’s going on.”
Strength-and-conditioning coach Mike Curtis has kept the players physically fit, Bennett said, “but mental sharpness is huge for us, and we aren’t a team that can afford mental breakdowns, nor physical breakdowns. We’re on a fine line, and that’s who we are, and we gotta embrace it. And that’s why when we get to a certain point and it unravels, that’s frustrating.”
The Cavaliers’ captains include swingman Solomon Tat, a seldom-used senior who suffered a concussion in practice before the Feb. 13 game at Virginia Tech. Tat played six minutes at Miami, his first appearance since Jan. 31.
The losing is “tough, not just for us as the players, but also for the coaches, because they’re trying their best to pull something out of it,” Tat said.
“But I think as a captain, as a player, my own job is to keep encouraging the guys. We just gotta play to the end, make sure that every day we come out and play hard and give the coaches something to work with.”
The ‘Hoos don’t play again until Sunday night, when they host fifth-ranked Duke (11-2, 23-4) at JPJ.
“We just gotta stay confident,” Landesberg said. “The season’s coming close to an end, but we still got some games left, the ACC tournament’s still there. We just gotta keep our heads up and keep believing.”