Miami basketball: Another offensive lull costs Hurricanes against No. 1 Virginia

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami basketball’s crumbling offense eroded and eroded until the midway point of the first half Tuesday night, when simply getting a shot to the hoop against top-ranked Virginia became an act of desperation. Dejan Vasiljevic, standing 25 feet away from the hoop, waited as the shot clock ticked toward zero. Whatever action the Hurricanes were running, it didn’t work and the guard could wait no longer. Vasiljevic heaved up an air ball with 10 minutes, 52 seconds to go in the half. A small chorus of boos rained in the Watsco Center.

Vasiljevic and Ebuka Izundu snapped back and forth at one another near midcourt before quickly slapping hands. After seeing his team score only 5 points in nearly 10 minutes of action, Jim Larranaga was already searching for a blowout-preventing solution. Ultimately, all the coach could do was keep prevent the blowout. The Cavaliers rode the game-opening dominance to a 59-50 win.

The opening 9-minute lull wasn’t even the worst part for the 7,333 in attendance. A mini 7-point burst during the next 3 minutes got the Hurricanes as close as 13-12 before Virginia (24-2, 13-1 ACC) delivered a kill shot in the way only the Cavs can. From the 9:26 mark of the first half until 2:05, Miami (18-7, 7-6) couldn’t score. It took another 45 seconds for the Hurricanes to finally make a field goal.

“They’re really disciplined. I think that’s the best word I can use for them,” freshman guard Chris Lykes said of Virginia after the game. “They help each other well, too. I think help defense is a big part of their team.”

A 1-point deficit swelled to 11 by halftime and even a sound offensive effort during the second half couldn’t overcome Miami’s 16-point first half.

Lykes was the only Hurricane to ever find any consistent offense against the Cavaliers’ vaunted pack-line defense, and it made sense. The freshman guard is one of the quickest players in the country and a devastating slasher. The best way to crack Virginia is with dribble penetration and Lykes was able to drop in 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

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Miami just couldn’t get him enough help. Star shooting guard Bruce Brown, perhaps the Hurricanes’ best slasher, is still sidelined due to a left foot injury. Lonnie Walker, Miami’s other star shooting guard, failed to crack double figures for the second straight game and didn’t make a field goal in the first half. Star post player Dewan Huell didn’t score at all.

To knock off No.1, the Hurricanes needed to be perfect — or as close to it as a team can be against the Cavaliers. Miami was far from it, however. The Hurricanes let easy rebounds slip out of bounds as Virginia racked up 7 credited to “team.” They went only 6 of 21 from 3-point range — 2 for 11 in the first half. They got to the free-throw line just 11 times.

“When you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country, it’s very likely that your players are going to be very fired up. Lots of energy and really wanting to compete at a high level,” Larranaga said during his postgame news conference. “The complication with that is that also can speed them up and get their minds going faster, and hard to calm down and just make a simple play. I thought the first half, that really showed on us.”

With a second straight loss, Miami is now barely above .500 in conference play. With Brown still out more than a month, the seams are beginning to show.

Larranaga was candid about where his team stands heading into the home stretch. The Hurricanes haven’t played well in recent days and it will take a fundamental fix to regain their early-season form.

“It’ll be interesting to see how we respond to two consecutive losses. When we lost Bruce Brown, I thought there was a real effort for everybody to step up and help us and we won three straight games without Bruce,” Larranaga said. “With a young team, there’s an expression that freshmen hit the wall come February and I see some of that. I see it in practice, where the energy level is not quite as good as it was back in September and October, the attention to detail where everybody’s listening.

“I don’t know what the correct word is. It’s not drudgery. It’s fatigue.”

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