Even if scoring is off, No. 3 Virginia banks on its defense
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Virginia’s best start since the 1980-81 season hasn’t always been a work of art offensively. Fortunately for the No. 3 Cavaliers, they have always been able to rely on their defense.
The Cavaliers (14-0) put it on display again Wednesday night in a 61-51 victory over North Carolina State. The Wolfpack came out red hot from 3-point range, hitting four in the first 6:13 and jumping to a 16-8 lead. Just as quickly, the Cavaliers adjusted, holding them scoreless for the next 6:19.
In the second half, after the Wolfpack used a 17-7 run that took nearly 10 minutes spanning the halves to take a one-point lead, the Cavaliers put the clamps on again. North Carolina State didn’t score for a stretch of 5:58, during which Virginia ripped off 10 straight points, enough to take command of the game.
”They are certainly really good defensively,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said of the second scoring drought. ”I thought we were our own worst enemy, too. It was kind of a half and half there.”
N.C. State’s 51 points was right at Virginia’s defensive average, 50.6, which is tied for the lead nationally with No. 1 Kentucky. By contrast, the Cavaliers rank 106th in scoring at 71.2 points per game.
When Davidson visited on Dec. 30, the Cavaliers won 83-72, but saw their nation’s-best streak of 17 games allowing 70 points or less come to an end. In their Atlantic Coast Conference opener four nights later at Miami, the Hurricanes did even better but still came up short, 89-80, in two overtimes.
Just winning wasn’t good enough for coach Tony Bennett, and he let his team know in practice.
”We knew that two games in a row we didn’t execute defensively to our standard, and coach wanted to ramp it up this week,” said junior guard Justin Anderson, the team’s top scorer at 15 points per game.
”He got after us leading up to this game. I think we came out start to finish on edge.”
Bennett could hardly be blamed for being disappointed. In the games leading up to the meeting with Davidson, against Cleveland State and Harvard, the Cavaliers allowed only four points in the opening 12 minutes. The Vikings eventually got their offense untracked, losing 70-54, but the nightmare for the Crimson was only beginning.
They had eight points at halftime and eventually lost, 76-27.
Harvard’s one field goal in the first half tied a Division I futility record, and while their 8-point first half set a record for an opponent at John Paul Jones Arena, it was the second time the Cavaliers have held an opponent to that number this season. Rutgers had eight in the second half of a 45-26 loss on Nov. 29, Virginia’s stingiest showing in the shot-clock era.
The game, perhaps coincidentally, was played one day after No. 1 Kentucky led UCLA 41-7 at halftime on the way to an 83-44 victory. Almost matching that left the Cavaliers feeling pretty good about themselves.
”It was crazy,” junior center Mike Tobey said of the game against the highly regarded Crimson, which the Cavaliers led 39-8 at the half. ”That’s the lowest we’ve held a team in a half since I’ve been here and it was a really cool feeling, especially after watching the Kentucky-UCLA game yesterday. That was something that we wanted to do, too.”
It’s also something they have shown they can do, but only when they stick with Bennett’s Pack-Line fundamentals.
”I don’t think we are where we need to be defensively,” Bennett said after the victory against the Wolfpack, adding that he drew a percentage sign on the board in the locker room before the game.
”I think we have limitations. I told the team it is all about percentages, and if you can bother and contend and win the majority of the percentages. I don’t think they will be perfect, but can you win the majority and outlast them as the game goes on? We have to have that mentality,” Bennett said.
”We aren’t going to dominate and we need to win the majority.”
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