Friday, March 11, 2011
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: UVa can't afford to not play again

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- They should be on the phone right now with the NIT, the CBI, the VHSL -- good grief, anybody who runs a postseason basketball tournament. If the Virginia Cavaliers aren't wanted, they should beg. And if they still aren't wanted, they should offer a bribe.

The Cavs must play again for their own sanity. No season -- not a great season, a so-so season, a rebuilding season, a miserable season, any season -- should end with anything resembling this stunning, 69-62 overtime loss to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

This job takes you into a lot of locker rooms and gives you a close-up of a lot disappointed people. Pain is a part of sports.

But Virginia's locker room on Thursday might have trumped them all.

What do you possibly ask? What can they possibly say?

Us: "Toughest loss you've ever had?"

Sammy Zeglinski: "Yes."

Us: "Ever been a part of anything like this?"

Joe Harris: "In all the games I've ever played, I've never been a part of anything like this before. It's crazy and shocking at the same time."

Let's start with the crazy: UVa going on a 20-2 run in the second half, wrestling control of this game away from Miami. The Cavaliers, who'd come out of nowhere to become one of the league's hottest teams down the stretch, holding a 10-point edge with 35 seconds left in regulation, about to win for the fifth time in six outings, about to set up a quarterfinal matchup with North Carolina.

"Guys were making big plays after big plays," UVa guard Jontel Evans said. "We were strapping it up on defense, being physical. Our confidence was at an all-time high. And then all of a sudden..."

Came the shocking.

"You see what happens when you keep playing," Miami coach Frank Haith said.

And you see what happens when you don't.

There's no use piling on here. Nobody feels worse than the Cavaliers about what happened during those final 35 seconds, and then in the overtime period. There was no one guy who threw this one away.

This was a total team collapse.

If there was a basketball miscue that could have been committed, it was committed. Missed free throws. Jaw-dropping turnovers. Unthinkably unwise passes.

And when Miami's Durand Scott picked off the last of those, scored off the glass and got fouled with 13 seconds left, the Hurricanes were all the way back.

"We put so much work into breaking the press, handling the ball," Zeglinski said. "I don't really know what to say."

This UVa team is built on defense, and typically when a 10-point lead dissolves, it's the defense that allows it to happen. But this was different. The Cavs' intended passes were so bad that it was almost a cinch to come back, if that makes any sense. Miami's penultimate basket in the run was an uncontested dunk off a stolen inbounds pass on the UVa end.

"We're never that careless with the basketball," Evans said. "I don't know what happened. I guess the basketball gods didn't want us to win today. We were just very passive and careless with the basketball."

Once it went to overtime, UVa had no chance. Coach Tony Bennett knew it. The players knew it. UVa did take the lead early in the period on a Harris 3-pointer, but Miami responded with a 10-1 run to put it away.

A visibly shaken Bennett thanked his seniors when it was over. He can only hope that it wasn't the end of their careers. The Cavaliers did a lot of good these past few weeks, started restoring some faith in Charlottesville, and seniors Mustapha Farrakhan and Will Sherrill were a big part of making that happen.

Any other year, you'd weigh your postseason options based on what it will cost you vs. what you can gain. Sometimes you take a financial loss playing in some of these lesser tournaments.

UVa shouldn't care. Whatever the price, it can't be nearly as high as going out this way.

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