By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Final exams begin Monday at the University of Virginia, and Joanne Boyle’s basketball team won’t play again until Dec. 17, when Maryland-Eastern Shore visits John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers have a myriad of problems to try to fix during the break.
For the first time since 2003-04, when they finished 13-16, the Wahoos are not above .500 as they head into finals. Virginia fell to 3-5 on Thursday night, losing 73-53 to Michigan in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at JPJ.
“I just think we don’t have a flow right now,” said Boyle, who’s in her third season at UVa.
The ‘Hoos have lost four straight since defeating Liberty on Nov. 19 in Lynchburg.
“I’m just disappointed,” Boyle said. “I wanted to finish off this stretch going into finals in a better place. We just gotta get back to business here and work on ourselves and get ready in these next two weeks.”
Michigan (6-3) outrebounded UVa 41-27. That the Cavaliers struggle on the backboards is no surprise. They have no players taller than 6-2. But the offensive and defensive breakdowns that have plagued UVa for much of the season were not expected.
“We’re not being disciplined on either end of the floor,” Boyle said. “I think our confidence is a little shook on offense, but we can guard better and we can rebound better, and we can get ourselves easy baskets so we don’t have to rely on half-court offense all the time.”
Junior forward Sarah Imovbioh (13 points) was the only Cavalier to score in double figures Wednesday night. Imovbioh was 4 for 7 from the floor, and 6-1 freshman Sydney Umeri was 3 for 6. UVa’s other players were a combined 12 for 44.
For the season, the `Hoos are shooting only 35.2 percent from the floor. Opponents, by contrast, have shot 41.1 percent against Virginia. The Wolverines, who played without their leading scorer, the injured Shannon Smith (17.3 ppg) made 28 of 52 field-goal attempts (53.8 percent), many uncontested layups.
“They’re a very high-octane offense,” Boyle said. “They move the ball. They make you play 30 seconds of defense. Even if they have open shots, they’re going to pass them up to make you work on the defensive end of the floor. In order to do that, you’ve got to be able to take things away, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Through eight games, three players are averaging in double figures for Virginia: senior guard Ataira Franklin (11.9 ppg), Imovbioh (11.6) and sophomore guard Faith Randolph (10.8). Senior guard Kelsey Wolfe (8.0) is also a scoring threat, but inconsistency has marked the Cavaliers’ play.
Still, Boyle believes UVa can be a solid offensive team.
“We have people that have shot the ball well,” she said. “We’ve just got to keep working. It’s one of those things where you have to have a short memory. If you have a bad game and a bad shooting night, you gotta [move on].
“Frankie’s had great shooting nights. Kelsey’s had great [nights]. So it’s a matter of what we’ve just got to be confident when we go in there, and understand we’ve got to play inside-out and understand what we’re looking for.”
When the `Hoos fall behind, Franklin said, “everybody wants to be the hero and kind of get you out of that and start the run. But what it came down to in this game was we weren’t getting stops. We were playing defense for 27 seconds, and then they would get the rebound, and that’s deflating.
“We were taking quick shots, and they were getting easy transition buckets. The way we played on defense affected our offense, and it has been the last couple games.”
Boyle said: “I feel like we’re getting outhustled. I don’t think we’re sitting down and guarding people and being disciplined. It’s deflating when people just constantly get second-chance points on you. It’s deflating to go 30 seconds, do a great job, [give up an offensive rebound] and have to play another 30 seconds. And we expend so much energy doing that instead of playing, getting a stop, getting an easy transition bucket here and there.”
UVa’s exam period ends Dec. 17. The top priority for Boyle’s players over the next 10 days will be academics, but the Cavaliers will practice, too, and focus on the future.
“In the locker room just now, Coach said all we can do is stay the course,” Franklin said. “Like she said earlier, you just have to have a short memory. We still have a few non-conference games left, and then ACC play is around the corner. All we can really do is work on us and try to build confidence going forward.”