Without a doubt, the signature UVA men’s basketball moment of the John Paul Jones Arena era is Sean Singletary’s miraculous shot last year in the final seconds of overtime to give the Cavaliers the win against No. 10 ranked Duke. If you were there, you remember it vividly. If you watched it on TV, you saw it half dozen times in every version of slow-mo. If you are a casual follower who rolls your eyes at sports but feel a duty to watch a highlight reel on the evening news, you have probably seen it. (If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here). With the score tied 66-66, Singletary splits two Duke defenders, find two others in his face and takes a one-handed baseline jumper, fading away at a gravity-defying angle. And the ball floats in, nothing but net. More than any other moment, it encapsulates last season and Sean Singletary and the frenetic potential of the John Paul Jones Arena.
Laurynas "Lars" Mikalauskas flexes for the 14,273 assembled in the JPJ after his labored putback yields an old fashioned three-point play. He’s averaging 10 points per game in ACC play.
With Duke in town again this year and Singletary’s college career coming to a close, it was hard not to hope for another such game. But fans worried that their memories of that dramatic performance would be eclipsed by something even greater: You can all rest assured.
For the first 14 minutes, the Cavaliers, and Singletary in particular, gave hope that this underperforming Hoo horde (14-14, 4-11 in the ACC) could beat No. 6 ranked Duke (26-3, 13-2 in the ACC). After limping his way through a tough road game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, Singletary out-hustled his defenders and scored nine points in the first six minutes.
Unfortunately, as Virginia Coach Dave Leitao acknowledged after the game, this year’s Duke team is one of the most offensively perfect squads in the country, and one of the few teams that loves the three pointer more than the Cavaliers do, hitting 12 treys compared to UVA’s six. And when the Blue Devils went into a zone defense to pressure Singletary, passive play and missed three pointers put an end to Wahoo hopes. Duke built a lead that was unassailable by the final eight minutes, and UVA lost 86-70.
For the basketball nerds among you, a few storylines from the game:
Calvin Baker auditions to be The Man
Singletary’s graduation is going to leave a John Wayne-sized role to fill for the Cavaliers. After making a couple of big plays that give UVA the win against Georgia Tech on Sunday, Baker put his all into an audition against the Blue Devils, the only player besides Sean who constantly challenged Duke’s defense.
He’ll get a callback. Baker was the only player besides Sean to play 30+ minutes, and he scored 15 points, shooting 46 percent from the field. He repeatedly drove to the basket and finished with four assists.
But he definitely didn’t land the part. Part of Singletary’s magic is being able to move so fast without turning the ball over. Trying to move too fast led Baker to five turnovers in the first half.
“Coach Leitao told me he felt like I was the most aggressive player next to Sean, so I had to get more aggressive, and I think I was turning the ball over a little too much in the first half,” said Baker after the game. “And then at half time, he told me to just don’t worry about it, just go out there and play, and that’s when I started to get real aggressive to start to score. He’d rather have a turnover of aggression…instead of just sitting back and waiting for someone else to dictate the game to you.”
No defense for the shoddy defense
No where did the weariness of playing three games in five days show more than on defense, particularly when Duke spread the floor and forced UVA players to help on a drive, leaving wide open shooters on the wing, which the Blue Devils exploited perfectly.
“What we’ve talked about for three years is defense,” said Leitao after the game. “It’s a simple thing. You’ve got to have a desire. For a number of different reasons, that’s waned throughout the year. If I were to put my finger on it, I think we base a large part of what we do [on], if we play good offense, we play better defense. And it’s got to be the other way around. If you play really good defense, then your offense will come.”
Cavaliers enter the twilight zone
All year long, zones have often been problematic to the Cavaliers, and the Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski discovered that to delightful effect. After Singletary blew by defenders in man-to-man coverage during the first 12 minutes of the game, Coach K went to the zone to put the breaks on the Cavalier point guard. The rest of the UVA team settled for three pointers too often, and after they missed a couple in a row towards the end of the first half, Duke took a double-digit lead that spelled Cavalier doom.
“My job is usually to get into the teeth of the defense,” said Singletary after the game, “and when a lot of attention is on me, everybody has to make a play. Lack of aggressiveness kills us. Looking for your shot, looking to create for others—we weren’t doing that enough.”
But Coach Krzyzewski had plenty to say about Singletary after the game, speaking in a tone of admiration infused with his trademark profanity. “You have speed, daring and talent, you end up being one of five players to do what the hell he’s done,” Krzyzewski said. “…He’s damn good. I love the kid. He’s going to be playing for a long time.”
Win the ACC tournament or get back in class
Regardless of what happens Sunday against Maryland, the Cavalier season almost definitely will be over with a loss in the ACC tournament, baring some bizarre decision by the NIT committee. To get to an automatic NCAA tournament berth will require winning four games in four games against the likes of Clemson, Duke and/or UNC.
But even if it seems improbable, Krzyzewski doesn’t think it’s impossible. “I think this tournament is going to be wide open. …I think it’s the least separation from top to bottom that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been here 28 years.”
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