Devon Bookert (1) scored 12 points in a 78-66 loss at Virginia last season.
Rich Barnes/Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Virginia remains confident that its stellar defensive play will continue to compensate for offensive issues that have lingered in the absence of one of its top scorers.
The second-ranked Cavaliers will try for a sixth consecutive victory Sunday night against visiting Florida State.
Virginia (24-1, 12-1 ACC) leads the nation in scoring defense (50.8 points per game) and entered the weekend third in defensive field-goal percentage (35.8). The offense, however, ranks in the bottom half of the league with an average of 62.5 points in conference play and the Cavaliers have shot 43.1 percent in those contests.
They’ve been even less potent over the last four games, averaging 50.8 points and shooting no better than 45.3 percent.
That stretch began with a 52-47 win over then-No. 9 Louisville on Feb. 7, when Justin Anderson (13.4 points per game), Virginia’s leading scorer at the time and a 48.0 percent shooter, suffered a finger injury that’s expected to sideline him for at least four weeks.
Playing to its strength, Virginia has dealt with Anderson’s absence by holding three of those four opponents to fewer than 50 points and less than 40 percent shooting.
"When your offense isn’t going well, you’ve got to lean on something, and for us, our identity is defense," guard Malcolm Brogdon said after scoring a team-high 18 points in Monday’s 61-49 home win over Pittsburgh.
"It works out great for us."
Off to the program’s best start since the 1981-82 team won 27 of its first 28, Virginia held Pitt to 15 first-half points and 38.6 percent shooting for the game.
"They keep coming and they keep making you make the right play time and time again," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. "Their size at all positions, I think, is a real attribute for them. Their size and their strength and experience at all spots."
The Cavaliers have learned to live with their offensive inefficiencies and are trying to take a smarter approach on that end of the floor, especially without Anderson — though defense still remains the obvious priority.
"Our defense has not let up," senior forward Darion Atkins said. "Because (Anderson) is out, we need to translate our defensive momentum to the offensive end."
Virginia held Florida State to an average of 55.7 points and 39.3 percent shooting while winning both regular-season meetings before a 64-51 victory in the quarterfinals of last year’s ACC tournament.
"I’m sure that Virginia will not give us very much room for error," Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton told the school’s official website.
Looking for a third consecutive win away from home, Florida State (15-12, 7-7) has won two straight and five of seven overall, but has dropped five straight road matchups against ranked opponents. The Seminoles, however, gave No. 15 North Carolina all it could handle during a 78-74 loss at Chapel Hill on Jan. 24.
Freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes (13.6 points per game) scored 35 in that contest and has averaged 21.0 on 33-of-66 shooting over the Seminoles’ last four road games.
Backcourt mate Devon Bookert, who scored 12 during a 78-66 loss at Virginia last season, had 18 points in Wednesday’s 69-60 home win over Boston College.
Averaging 15.5 points in six games, Brogdon had 16 with six assists, four rebounds and four steals during last season’s home victory over the Seminoles.