#13 Virginia wins with … offense

virginia basketballVirginia coach Tony Bennett wants his team to improve on the defensive end. What coach doesn’t, right?

But it’s looking more like this team’s success is going to hinge on what it does on the offensive end.

The Cavs shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half and 58.8 percent in the second half against a team that had allowed opponents to shoot 39.8 percent on the season coming in.

The key in the 73-65 win was hitting the high post, with forwards Anthony Gill, Isaiah Wilkins and Mike Tobey flashing to the foul line, finding each other on high-lows and dishing to open three-point shooters when the high-low wasn’t there.

The ball movement created open looks in the post and on the wings for long stretches in both halves, and helped break open a tight game late when Wilkins found Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrnates for open threes and Gill streaking on the baseline for a dunk that helped put the game away in the final minute.

Brogdon and Perrantes did their part knocking down the open shots, sparking the ‘Hoos to an 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) night from three, against a team that allowed opponents to shoot 28.9 percent from long-range coming in.

The defense did its part Sunday, though the numbers might not totally reflect how well UVA played on that end of the floor. Syracuse went 4-for-8 from three-point range in the final 3:42 basically in scramble mode to skew the overall numbers.

For the game, the ‘Cuse put up a jaw-dropping 30 shots from behind the arc, more than half their shots from the field, and made 13 (43.3 percent), boosting the final points per possession number for the night to an even 1.000.

But Syracuse was just 21-of-54 from the field (38.9 percent), including 11-of-32 (34.4 percent) in the second half, and had a hard time all night getting anything going inside, scoring just 12 points in the paint.

That’s a good measure for the Virginia D, that it forced a lot of long-range shots, and did a solid job rebounding the misses (UVA had 27 defensive rebounds; Syracuse had nine offensive rebounds).

The one fly in the ointment: turnovers. UVA had 10 of them in the second half, including five on their first six possessions out of the locker room.

Clean that up, and this is a Virginia team that can win consistently. It’s pretty much what you saw out of the Cavaliers in December wins over Villanova and West Virginia.

It’s a team that wins with offense first.

– Column by Chris Graham