CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - What a team may lack in talent can be made up for with heart.
Saturday an unranked Virginia squad gave Duke all it could handle before falling 72-65. The Cavaliers are not one of the more talented teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but they are one of the ACC's most intense and scrappy teams. The Cavs aren't a prolific scoring team, but they can play defense with the best. They can often make a very good team look very ordinary.
The Cavaliers took the Blue Devils, a team that dismantled the Terrapins at Maryland by 32 points, and annihilated the same Cavaliers in Durham by 44 in December, and held them to 32 points on 38.7 percent shooting in the first half. Virginia played tough man-to-man defense and did not give Duke many open looks at the basket. The Blue Devils struggled against the UVa defense and only had a two-point lead going into the half-their average halftime lead is 20.
"We knew that some things would have to go our way," Virginia coach Jeff Jones said. "So we would have to accomplish certain things out there today in order to have a chance against Duke. Some of them did happen. They weren't having a great shooting night. Our kids for the most part did a nice job of controlling the tempo and not letting the game get away from us."
Early in the contest it seemed that the game might slip away from the Cavaliers. Six minutes into the game the Cavs were only down by one, but the Blue Devils went on a 7-0 run over the next couple of minutes to lead 18-10. Against many teams this would simply be the start of a much bigger run in which Duke would blow away its opponent. UVa responded by tightening its defense and crashing the boards. It held the Blue Devils to only seven points over the next nine minutes and muscled its way to a three-point lead.
In the first half Duke was only 2-for-9 from beyond the three-point arc. Usually the Blue Devils' strength, the Cavaliers' defenders played tough man to man and constantly fought through picks to force them to shoot with a hand in their face. Duke was so harried by the Cavs that it even began to miss open looks at the basket.
In the second half the Blue Devils made some changes. They began driving to the basket more. They forced the action and either got nice baskets or fouls.
"The adjustment was driving the ball a little bit more," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We attempted to drive in the first half. As soon as we got a little bit of resistance we fell back. They play a top-of-the-key pickup, and it's tough to get into the lane. You've got to get by a tough defender, and you don't get by a tough defender with a soft move. I thought our moves in the second half were stronger. And when we got into that second bonus, we were looking to drive the ball and get fouled and hoping to score too."
It was Duke's big men who were doing most of the driving, led by Chris Carrawell, Roshown McLeod and Mike Chappell. Virginia was forced to foul, and the Blue Devils established a 7-point lead early in the second half.
"Carrawell and Chappell had several drives to the basket where they created things with foul opportunities," Jones said. "They were putting the ball into McLeod's hands down low. I think the biggest problem that we had was fouling. That's why we finally put Kris Hunter in there to replace Ducharme. McLeod is a very good player, but we felt we had a little bit of a size advantage. We wanted to at least make him put the ball in the basket, instead of continuing to foul him. But Duke did a nice job of controlling the tempo and attacking in spots."
Carrawell was especially effective in attacking the hoop. Carrawell, while shutting down Curtis Staples, netted a driving layup and a thunderous slam dunk when he drove from the baseline on the Cavs.
"Usually, Virginia, they force middle," Carrawell said. "They don't like to give up the baseline. I faked like I was gonna go to the middle, and that opened up the baseline. So I went baseline and I just finished."
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Duke, partly due to it's poor free throw shooting, was not able to put the game away and only led by four or five for most of the second half. UVa continued to pound away on the inside, led by Norman Nolan, who finished with 22 points and six rebounds. The Cavaliers continued to fight until, down by only two with four minutes left, Trajan Langdon took over the game. Langdon made two clutch jump shots, including a back-breaking three-pointer.
"Langdon's shots were huge," Krzyzewski said. "Those were the shots that made him first-team All-ACC last year."
Virginia fought Duke to a standstill for most of the day. On paper the Cavaliers did not have the talent to match the Blue Devils, but with intensity on the defensive end and a lot of heart, they showed that they can play with any team in the nation. However, intensity and heart can only make up for talent for so far and for so long. The more talented teams-in this case, the Blue Devils-usually find a way to win.