Olden Polynice, Virginia's oh-so consistent center, said it oh-so simply after fourth-ranked Duke held him to seven points tonight in a 77-65 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over the Cavaliers: "I can't score without the ball."
It was the first time this season that Polynice had not scored in double figures. Credit it to Duke's dynamic defense. Guards haven't won a championship since the glory days of the Green Bay Packers, but the way the Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2 ACC) played defense on the perimeter tonight, Virginia never had a chance.
Polynice, who scored his only basket in the game's 33rd minute, got only five shots before fouling out with 1:32 to play, and his team couldn't create many points off one-on-one basketball, shooting just 41 percent for the game.
But the image that remained for the sellout crowd of 9,000 in University Hall and Virginia Coach Terry Holland was Duke's Johnny Dawkins (20 points) or his back-court pals making it awfully difficult for Virginia to get its offense going.
"It's the normal way we try to play him," said Jay Bilas, one of three players who guarded Polynice. "But it's not the way it usually turns out. It's not so much what the inside players did. It's more what the perimeter players did.
"The guards' pressure kept them from picking us apart inside. It's not so easy to pick spots and get the ball to the guy where he wants it. Like they say in basketball, the post man is always open. It's just from what angle, and when you can't see an opening because you have a lot of pressure on you, that's a big factor in why a guy doesn't get the ball a lot."
Said Holland: "They're awfully aggressive inside. But the key to the way they played defense against Polynice tonight was their perimeter defense. They played very aggressively out front and kept him from touching the ball."
Polynice had just two shots in the first half, in which Duke took control with a closing 16-3 run for a 34-20 lead at intermission. The lead was 18 points before Virginia rallied late in the game.
The Cavaliers (14-6, 4-4) closed to six points twice and five points twice. But each time, David Henderson (20 points) made the basket that kept the Blue Devils of out real trouble.
Only eight nights ago on the same court, Virginia defeated top-ranked North Carolina by 13 points. It was not the same Cavaliers team on the floor tonight, getting outrebounded (38-28) for the first time in 10 games and getting constantly outhustled.
"For some reason we really weren't focused," said Holland. "I'm really disappointed with our preparation. When things weren't going well for us and we needed to stick together, we didn't."
Holland tried various guard combinations, but none was effective. Johnny Johnson, the backup point guard who played 29 minutes and missed eight of nine shots, said: "We were a half step slow in everything we did. It just wasn't there tonight. We weren't mentally prepared to play the type of game we needed. Last week, we were prepared to do anything we had to do to win. We were still living off the North Carolina win."
Against a team like Duke that plays man-to-man defense and contests every pass, that usually leads to nothing good, as was the case tonight.
In the last 17 possessions of the first half, Virginia scored one basket, missed five shots and had 10 turnovers. The Blue Devils kept their momentum at the start of the second half, taking a 46-27 lead with 15:45 to play, Dawkins scoring 20 of their first 42 points.
"He's a great player," said Holland of the 6-foot-2 senior from Washington's Mackin High. "Is he finally graduating?"
Virginia rallied, mainly behind freshman Richard Morgan (11 points, all in the second half) and Mel Kennedy, who scored 15 points of his 23 points after intermission.
"The reason they came back so much was as much our mistakes as what they did," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "They looked like they decided that they were just going to take it at us, and when a team does that you have to have some discipline. They're going to miss some shots in that situation, and we fouled them instead of staying on the floor and getting good rebounding position."
By this time, Virginia was playing a gimmick defense: four men in a zone and one chasing Dawkins. Duke's offense lost its aggressiveness, and Krzyzewski called a timeout. It was 58-52.
The Blue Devils again started running their offense with patience, and Henderson hit four baskets.
At the timeout, Krzyzewski told Henderson: "When you see an opening, take advantage of it." As the coach would say later: "That's all you have to say to David."
"I knew it was there," Henderson said. "I knew what he meant."