History against the Big Red: 7-3
Last matchup: UVA 11, Cornell 9; 3/12/11; Baltimore, MD
Last game: UVA 13, Bucknell 12 (5/15); Cornell 12, Hartford 5 (5/14)
Last time these two teams matched up, about two months ago, here's what I wrote about Cornell:
If anything, they're a little down this year with a loss to Army and uninspiring wins over Hobart and Canisius and a decent one over terrible Binghamton. ... Cornell's goalie, A.J. Fiore, is in his second year of starting in net and hasn't started off well. And their starting defense is ever so young - all sophomores, two of them also in their second year of starting and one in his first. UVA's wily veterans on offense should be able to find plenty of ways to put the ball in the net. As long as Pannell is shut down - more than doable, as our defense has been relatively stout - this game should be a good national-TV bounceback from last week.At the time it was perfectly true, but it sure looks silly now. UVA did indeed win the game - it wasn't easy, but we got the win. That's the last time this season Cornell has landed in the loss column, a schedule that includes the Ivy League regular season and tournament, and a win over Syracuse to boot.
It's probably a good thing they did that, since UVA's fortunes went south real quickly not long after this game. Beating the eventual #2 seed in the tournament helped assure a home-field game. But about the only true word about Cornell in that paragraph is the unflattering assessment of goalie A.J. Fiore, whose .516 save percentage is a tad pedestrian. (Never fear. We'll improve that by taking shots three feet from the net, which, as with our basketball team, we never seem to score on.) It doesn't matter, though, because Cornell's defense is outstanding; opponents only score on 25% of their cleared possessions, good for third in the country, and they're 10th in the nation in caused turnovers per game.
In light of the continued absence of the Brattons and the terrible UVA defense, Dom Starsia is adopting the underdog strategy this week and working on slowing the game down. You've seen them doing so in the past, too; several times against Bucknell the announcers clearly expected UVA to take a quick shot at the goal in transition and were surprised when they didn't, and set up in a half-field offense instead. This is a good thing; I also spent most of that game exhorting them from afar to do just that and I'll probably do so again on Saturday.
Obviously, Cornell is the Rob Pannell show; with 86 points he's the runaway favorite for lacrosse's Heisman, the Tewaaraton Trophy. In the past UVA would've handed Pannell off to Ken Clausen or whoever was the top defender on the team and told him to be on Pannell like his shadow and that would've happened all game long. If we do that this game it'll be a complete disaster, so that strategy's out. Pannell is their Steele Stanwick - he can run the show from anywhere, and he'll score if you let him and if you don't let him he'll pass to someone who will. His version of Chris Bocklet - the finisher - is Steve Mock, who's got 36 goals and three assists. I'm glad I'm not the guy who has to figure out the defense; it'll probably be a roughly 50/50 split of man and zone again.
I hope when the coaches say they'll be slowing the game down, they mean really slowing it down, because I think that's what it'll take. Yes, that's an acknowledgement of majorly underdog status. I wouldn't be as worried, but the defense, you know. When the offense has the ball they need to be extra-patient. They'll probably earn a stall warning or three if they're doing it right. The key to scoring will be a lot of tossing the ball around and waiting for an opportunity to throw a lightning bolt of the kind that Stanwick and Bocklet hooked up for several times against Bucknell. The other thing they'll need to do is dominate on faceoffs. I know that's not something you normally associate with UVA lax, but it's possible. Cornell's top faceoff guy is sub-50% on the season, and our three face-er off-er FOGO types have shown the propensity to beat subpar opponents. Success has come in streaks, but the coaches need to ride the hot hand, whoever that is, and it might just result in more possessions instead of make-it take-it lacrosse for Cornell.
I won't bore you with What's At Stake, since it's pretty clear, but I'd have to say this: it feels a little fortunate, the way this season has gone (not to mention how the Bucknell game went) to be sitting one win from another Final Four trip. Let's hope for a little luck and a little lightning in a bottle tomorrow.