For as much as Virginia struggled in the first half of Sunday’s 67-54 win at Oregon, the Cavaliers demonstrated an ability to adapt adeptly on offense in their first true road game of the season.
With its three primary big men (Mike Scott, Assane Sene and Akil Mitchell) on the bench in foul trouble, Virginia opted for a four-guard lineup and relied on three-point shooting to keep Oregon from extending its lead beyond a handful of points. The Cavaliers made 4 of 9 three-pointers before the break and trailed by just two points at halftime despite having allowed their most first-half points (30) of the season.
In the second half – with Scott back on the floor drawing attention away from Virginia’s other shooters – the Cavaliers took turns more aggressively driving into the lane. After not shooting a single free throw in the first half, Virginia made 11 of 13 free throws after the intermission. The Cavaliers were more balanced offensively and more sound defensively, specifically in transition.
Even with continued foul trouble on the part of Sene and Mitchell, Virginia (9-1) began to pull away late in the second half thanks in large part to its continued success on the boards. The Cavaliers have done a solid job of limiting the second-chance opportunities of opposing teams thus far this season, and Sunday’s game was no exception. Oregon (6-3) grabbed six offensive rebounds all night, while the Cavaliers tallied 30 defensive rebounds.
1) Rebounding. As just mentioned, Virginia successfully limited Oregon’s second-chance scoring opportunities. And while the Ducks made shots at a decent clip (42.6 percent), they didn’t shoot nearly well enough to keep pace while being that ineffective on the boards. Despite being limited to nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Scott ended up pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds. He got a fair amount of help from guards Malcolm Brogdon (six rebounds) and Joe Harris (five). Virginia out-rebounded Oregon, 39-25.
2) Malcolm Brogdon. The Virginia coaching staff loves the freshman guard’s maturity, and his performance Sunday was a good example why. Brogdon logged nine points and six rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. But more than the numbers, he mostly makes sound decisions on the floor and doesn’t seem to become overwhelmed by many of the situations he and the team faces. When Virginia was trailing in the first half and Scott was tied to the bench with foul trouble, Brogdon – and not, say, sophomore guard K.T. Harrell – was on the floor helping limit the Cavaliers’ deficit. Ten games into the season, he already seems to have carved out a role as Virginia’s sixth man.
3) Mike Scott. As if we needed more evidence, Scott proved how valuable he is to this season’s team Sunday. His absence was blatantly noticeable in the first half, when he sat on the bench for the final 7 minutes 30 seconds after being saddled with two fouls. When he returned to the floor after the break, he changed the complexion of the squad on both ends of the floor. It is not a coincidence that even though Scott attempted just four shots from the field in the second half, Virginia’s shooting percentage after the break (54.2 percent) was far better than it was in the first half (38.7 percent). Scott finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season and the 28th of his career.
1) Foul trouble. You may have noticed how many times already in this post I’ve mentioned the fact that several Virginia players were limited Sunday by foul trouble. Consider this: At halftime, Scott, Sene and Mitchell each had two fouls. Sene and Mitchell picked up their third fouls early in the second half. But after shooting 10 free throws in the first half, the Ducks shot four in the second half. So the foul trouble didn’t end up hurting Virginia much Sunday, but clearly the Cavaliers will want to be a little more disciplined in future contests.
2) Defending Devoe Joseph. Remember last season when Joseph scored 16 points off the bench during Virginia’s 87-79 win at Minnesota? Well, Joseph has since transferred from Minnesota to Oregon, and in the meantime, the Cavaliers didn’t come up with an effective way to defend him. Joseph came off the bench Sunday and scored 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Virginia tried several different defenders on him, but to little avail. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Joseph was the only Oregon player who got into any sort of lengthy rhythm.
3) Transition defense (in the first half). Officially, Oregon tallied just two fast-break points in the first half. But for most of the opening period, the Cavaliers did not set up their defense in transition very efficiently. Again, this may be tied back to the early foul trouble by Virginia’s big men. But Coach Tony Bennett values few things more on the court than transition defense, and it was it was outright sloppy at times during the first half. It was much improved in the second half, yet another reason why Virginia was able to pull away and why a Cavaliers’ opponent still has yet to tally 60 or more points this season.
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