Maybe a year from now, Virginia wins this game. When the Cavaliers are a year more seasoned, a year more poised on defense, a year more accomplished on offense, they win such a game.
The boxscore says that Duke registered yet another home, double-figure wipeout of the Cavaliers at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But make no mistake, Saturday's affair was one that Virginia could have had.
"For 28 minutes, 30 minutes," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, "they played so hard and they executed and they did good things, things to build on in a tough setting against a heck of a team. And then the last 10 minutes, I thought we fractured defensively.
"We really made Duke earn most of the game up until that point with our defense. We were in position, we fought, we told them it's going to be a battle for your composure and your toughness, and when that went away, that's when Duke separated themselves quickly."
Indeed, the Blue Devils' 76-60 win was a product of the final 13 minutes, when the defending national champs and ACC favorites demonstrated the difference between a team with talent and experience and one with youth and promise.
For the second consecutive game, Virginia (10-7, 1-2 ACC) went toe-to-toe with one of the conference's signature programs and came up short.
But where last week's 62-56 loss to North Carolina was at John Paul Jones Arena, Saturday's game was in as unforgiving a venue as they visit, a building where they've lost 13 consecutive times by an average of 23 points per game.
"I personally feel that our team can compete with anybody," Virginia freshman guard Joe Harris said. "We've just got to put it all together. We can't let up. I think against North Carolina, we kind of let up, too, at the very end.
"When you've got a team against the ropes, that's when you've got to keep going at 'em, keep being aggressive. I think being a young team, we're going to learn from that and grow from it."
The Cavaliers led by as many as 10 points in the first half and nine in the second against a Duke team that clearly wasn't at the top of its game.
The Blue Devils (16-1, 3-1 ACC) shot poorly, were sloppy with the ball and too often inattentive on defense and the boards during the first 30 minutes.
Duke senior guard Nolan Smith (29 points) carried the day until his teammates caught up. The Devils finally gained traction at both ends of the floor with a 16-2 run that turned a 42-33 deficit into a 49-44 lead.
Virginia answered with a couple of baskets, but the die had been cast. The Cavs went 71/2 minutes without a field goal down the stretch, and Duke's Andre Dawkins (14 points) provided a spark at both ends of the floor. He buried three, knife-in-the-gut 3-pointers in a three-minute span to help create separation.
"I think we started breaking down quicker defensively and that killed us," Bennett said. "And a couple turnovers, we got rattled, and then that turned into fast-break buckets for them and the crowd got into it.
"It's always a balance. We want our guys to be aggressive, but have a level of patience, and sometimes there was a couple of wide-open shots that presented themselves that were quick. We made some in the first half, but then when we missed them, boom, they were gone. It's a fine line we walk with that."
Harris and Mustapha Farrakhan led the Cavs with 15 points apiece, but Farrakhan managed just three points in the second half and didn't make a basket after halftime.
"We know we can play with them," Farrakhan said, "but you just can't have any lapses. We're a group that we need everybody in order to be good, and I guess little defensive letdowns in the second half really got them the momentum, and it was kind of hard to dig ourselves out of that hole."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun