The moments following the Virginia men’s basketball team’s recent games have fallen into a pattern.
After Coach Tony Bennett sits composed in front of microphones and replies to questions from a group of reporters not used to asking about losses, Cavaliers players shuffle in, their eyes tired and voices flat as they search for answers themselves.
“Um, I wish I knew,” senior point guard London Perrantes said after Monday night’s grinding, 54-48 overtime loss to Miami about his recent shooting slump, part of the team-wide offensive struggles that have led to Virginia’s first four-game losing streak in seven years . “I wish I knew what was getting me out of rhythm so I could fix it. I’m just going into a pretty deep slump as of right now.”
“I don’t know,” junior guard Marial Shayok responded Saturday when asked about the team’s most decisive defeat of the season, 65-41 at North Carolina on Feb. 18. “Just have to watch tape, get back to practice.”
The 18th-ranked Cavaliers’ best chance to break the cycle — and their shooting slump — finally arrives Saturday, when they will travel to Raleigh, N.C., to face North Carolina State.
After Virginia shot a combined 32 percent from the floor and 19 percent from beyond the three-point line in its three most recent losses — to Duke, North Carolina and Miami — the Wolfpack offers an opening for friendlier numbersover the weekend: They rank last in the 15-team ACC in scoring defense and three-point field goal percentage defense, 12th in overall field goal percentage defense and 14th in scoring margin.
Opponents are shooting 45 percent from the floor against the Wolfpack (15-14, 4-12 ACC), which lost seven games in a row before beating Georgia Tech on the road, 71-69, on Tuesday. Coach Mark Gottfried, who was fired last week effective at the end of the season, called the win one of N.C. State’s best defensive games all season — and the Yellow Jackets shot 44.8 percent from the field.
Virginia (18-9, 8-7) hasn’t shot that well since its most recent victory, over Louisville in Charlottesville on Feb. 6.
“Opportunity? Maybe so,” junior guard Devon Hall said after practice Thursday.
N.C. State even struggles at the free throw line, good news for the Cavaliers, whose shortcomings from the stripe have cost them close games this season.
Virginia made 14 of 24 free throws in its slump-opening, 80-78 double-overtime loss at Virginia Tech (the Hokies made 20 of 26) and 13 of 20 in the overtime loss to Miami (the Hurricanes made 20 of 22). The Wolfpack, meanwhile, shoots 69.7 percent from the free throw line, 11th in the league.
No matter their next opponent, the Cavaliers would have spent extra time shooting this week in practice; that’s just one of Bennett’s proposed solutions to breaking the drought.
“If we miss them, we’re going to keep shooting them,” Hall said. “Coach has been preaching the same thing: ‘You’re not going to turn down wide-open shots. You’re going shoot them, just like you shoot them in practice, just like you shoot them by yourself when you’re just on your own working out.’ ”
Instead of a normal day of practice Thursday, the Cavaliers had a “skill development” day full of shooting drills.
The team didn’t work much on defensive assignments — sacrilege on any other day in Charlottesville — or run a lot of their set offense. The purpose was repetition.
“There’s not any other option but to shoot a quality shot,” Bennett said. “You keep moving the ball, but you keep trying to get the right kinds of shots. . . . Get some extra looks in the gym and be ready for the next one. You’re still playing for something; that’s what I told them. You’re in for a fight every game, and it’s hard when you lose those ones that you felt like were in your grasp.”
Rest, too, was an objective as Bennett tries to break Virginia’s pattern. The Cavaliers haven’t copped to much fatigue, emotional or physical, during the losing streak, but Bennett called their offense “ragged” after Monday’s loss. Virginia’s pace and efficiency were suffering along with their shooting.
“We had a nine-day, four-game stretch, so it was just a little bit more recovery,” Hall said of the team’s regimen. “Practice has been good. We’re still competing as hard as possible, we’re getting better and we’re learning — that’s not going to change.”
The Cavaliers are hoping patterns will.