By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — There was no dramatic finish at John Paul Jones Arena this time, nothing to send the home fans off into the cold winter night with a measure of holiday cheer.
This time the UVa men’s basketball team got down and stayed down. Forty-eight hours after rallying for a one-point victory over lowly Norfolk State, the Wahoos trailed for the final 18 minutes and 19 seconds Wednesday night against another unheralded opponent, Seattle University, and lost 59-53 at JPJ.
Even the return of all-ACC candidate Mike Scott, playing less than a week after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, didn’t save the ‘Hoos. Virginia was equally inept on offense and defense against Seattle (5-10), which never looked intimidated by its ACC host.
The Redhawks, who are in their second season as full-fledged Division I members, shot 50 percent from the floor and outrebounded the taller Cavaliers 36-32.
“We definitely didn’t sleep on them,” said Scott, who finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds in 31 minutes, “but they were just more scrappy and more hungry than we were, and by the time we tried to make a comeback, it was too late.”
A 9-0 run late in the second half pulled UVa to 54-48, and the crowd of 8,679 voiced its approval, urging second-year coach Tony Bennett’s team on. The Cavaliers got no closer. On Seattle’s next possession, Scott blocked one shot and then another, but the ball ended up in the hands of Brandon Durham, whose stickback made it an eight-point game again.
The forward whom Bennett called the best player of the court, 6-5, 205-pound junior Aaron Broussard (15 points, 10 rebounds), typified the fearless play of the Redhawks.
“They can shoot the ball, they’re hungry, they’re aggressive, they’re physical,” UVa freshman guard KT Harrell said. “We prepared fairly well, but when we got out there it seemed like that they wanted it more than us, plain and simple. They were hungrier, scrappier, and I think we got outworked.”
And so the Cavaliers squandered an opportunity to head into the holiday break with a six-game winning streak. Virginia, picked to finish 11th in the ACC, is 1-0 in conference play and 8-4 overall, with victories over then-No. 15 Minnesota, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, among others.
The ‘Hoos have performed better than most expected. That was small consolation to them immediately after Wednesday’s shocker.
“We would have liked to get this one going into our break,” junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “It’s going to leave a bad taste in our mouth. We just gotta come back on the 30th and get a big win against Iowa State.”
Virginia doesn’t play again until next Thursday, when the Cyclones (11-2) visit JPJ. The Cavaliers, who scattered after the Seattle game, will reconvene for practice Monday and try to correct the many flaws that appeared this week.
Against Norfolk State, UVa shot only 35.2 percent from the floor. Against Seattle, Virginia missed 18 of 20 shots from 3-point range. Not since Dec. 4, 2005, when they went 0 for 13 in a loss to Georgia Tech, have the ‘Hoos shot a lower percentage from beyond the arc.
“So we have work to do,” Bennett said. “We’re 8-4, had some nice wins. Escaped some games that could have gone the other way. But we’ll try to improve over the break. The competition keeps stepping up, and we have to. Otherwise we’ll be sitting here a lot, and it’ll be tough.”
After five strong games in a row — easily the best stretch of his college career — senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan crashed back to earth Wednesday. He made his first shot, giving Virginia its only lead (2-0), but then missed his next 11 attempts.
Zeglinski (3 for 11) was more accurate than Farrakhan (1 for 12), but not much. Only one Cavalier — Harrell (6 for 11) — made at least half of his field-goal attempts.
“You gotta be able to make shots,” Bennett said. “We didn’t.”
Harrell led Virginia with 16 points. He and Scott were the only Cavaliers to score in double figures. Joe Harris, who came in averaging 10.4 points, struggled for the third straight game.
“He was out of sorts tonight,” Bennett said. “He didn’t have a good game. Got beat a couple times defensively, then they really got physical with him in the paint. His youth and inexperience certainly is showing at times. [Opponents] are marking him harder, you can see that.”
The 6-6 freshman from Chelan, Wash., scored only 6 points and turned the ball over three times. Harris looked nothing like the confident player who torched Minnesota for 24 points late last month.
“We were familiar with Joe from high school and from how well I think he’s played this year,” Seattle coach Cameron Dollar said. “We tried to get through his screens and contest his shots. Basketball is a rhythm game, so if your rhythm is off a little bit, you definitely can take advantage of that.
“I think we were able to bother Joe a little bit on the defensive end by posting him up and attacking him there, which can conversely mess with your offense.”
Harris wasn’t the only Cavalier who struggled on defense Wednesday night. In the first nine minutes of the second half, Seattle missed only one shot from the floor. Overall, the Redhawks outscored Virginia 30-14 in the paint.
Offense comes and goes, Bennett noted. Defense must be a constant for a team such as UVa, whose margin for error is exceptionally thin.
“We’ve got to be an A-minus at worst at the defensive end, and when that slides, you’ve not going to win games,” Bennett said. “We don’t have the offensive firepower to win games.”
Dollar, a former UCLA guard whose assistant coaches include his father, knows Bennett from their days in the Pac-10. Dollar was an assistant at Washington, and Bennett coached at Washington State. Dollar was gracious in victory, noting that the Cavaliers were shorthanded — starting forward Will Sherrill missed his fifth straight game with an injury — and that Scott wasn’t 100 percent.
“For Virginia, this is probably more of one of those trap games,” Dollar said. “They had a win a couple of days ago, and when you’re getting ready for the holidays, there is always a sticky period there. They had some guys out and are still getting them back in. Their rhythm was a bit off, and we were fortunate, because we didn’t rebound as well as I would have liked down the stretch, and they got a lot of looks at it. We were just fortunate that they missed tonight.”
Sherrill is expected back for the Iowa State game, and Scott should be sharper with more practice time. The 6-8, 242-pound senior was averaging 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds before he got hurt.
“I think tonight we just took one on the chin,” Scott said. “Tonight wasn’t a good loss, but I think we just come back, have a little rest at home with our families, and just come back and get ready for Iowa State.”
Harrell said: “We would have liked to finish out with a win, but we’ll bounce back. We’ll bounce back.”