Virginia upsets No. 15 Gophers

Virginia upsets No. 15 Gophers

by Austin Cumblad

In terms of actual players on the court, yes, this was the same undefeated Minnesota team that beat then-No. 8 North Carolina on Nov. 19 and West Virginia, a 2010 Final Four team, two days later to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

And they were playing the same Virginia that lost by 43 to then-No. 13 Washington a week ago and Wichita State the next night.

On Monday night, however, neither squad looked like the version of themselves that took the court last week. Behind red-hot perimeter shooting and a pair of career performances, the Cavaliers upset the No. 13/15 Gophers Monday night, 87-79.

âÄúIt was probably as pathetic an effort defensively as weâÄôve had in a long time,âÄù head coach Tubby Smith said after the game, despite MinnesotaâÄôs surprisingly complete arsenal of available players.

In the days leading up to MinnesotaâÄôs Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against Virginia, it appeared the Gophers might be without three key pieces to their 2010-11 team.

Instead, by Monday night, junior Devoe JosephâÄôs suspension was lifted and sophomore Rodney WilliamsâÄô ankle sprain had healed enough to play âÄî albeit just seven minutes âÄî leaving only senior Al Nolen out of the lineup, nursing an ankle sprain.

But the unexpectedly deep lineup still missed NolenâÄôs defensive presence. Minnesota (8-1) rarely utilized its full-court press, partly, Smith said, because his team hasnâÄôt practiced without Nolen orchestrating it.

âÄúWe just didnâÄôt have the ball pressure to make our press work as well as we wanted it to work,âÄù Smith said.

Without consistent pressure, Virginia used an effective array of ball screens to provide itself gobs of open looks on the perimeter; the Cavaliers shot 47.3 percent overall but 54.3 percent from outside the paint.

âÄúSometimes we got lost out there,âÄù said Devoe Joseph, who scored 16 points in 24 minutes in his first appearance of the season.

The Gophers answered an opening three-pointer by Joe Harris with a 17-4 stretch and looked like they were running away with the game, but Virginia (4-3) didnâÄôt miss from beyond the arc in the first half and kept the Cavaliers within striking distance.

They cooled only slightly from downtown in the second half. A 10-point deficit at the break became a one-point Virginia lead with 13:24 remaining in the game and stretched to 14 as the clock ticked under 5 1/2 minutes.

Leading the way were guards Mustapha Farrakhan and Joe Harris, who each had career nights, although at opposite points of their career. Harris, a freshman, recorded his second career high in a week with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Farrakhan, a senior, went 4-for-5 from three-point range and easily bettered his previous career high âÄì 17 points against Virginia Tech in Jan. 2009 âÄì with 23 points.

Just as important, Virginia took better care of the ball after the break and advantage of MinnesotaâÄôs carelessness with it. In the second half, the Cavaliers scored nine points off turnovers to the GophersâÄô two.

âÄúWe just have to go into every game like weâÄôre the underdog,âÄù senior guard Blake Hoffarber said, diagnosing MinnesotaâÄôs second-half meltdown. Hoffarber led the team with 19 points. âÄúWe had that every game in Puerto Rico and tonight we didnâÄôt have it.âÄù