The secret sauce behind the Cavalanche

cavalanche1You already know that UVA basketball is built on a foundation of defense, so you’re not surprised to be reminded that the Cavaliers were the fifth-most efficient team in the nation defensively in 2013-2014, giving up an average of 90.1 points per 100 possessions, according to stats guru Ken Pomeroy.

What you’re probably surprised to learn is that KenPom also had Virginia as the 21st-most efficient team in the country on offense, scoring 114.4 points per 100 possessions.

The style of play under coach Tony Bennett doesn’t make you think offensive juggernaut, but the numbers don’t lie.

And actually, it’s part of the secret sauce to the Cavalanche that the two – hard-nosed defense and a ruthlessly efficient, yet patient, offense – go hand-in-hand.

“What makes us so good offensively is our defense,” said Anthony Gill, who knows the value of defense as well as anyone in Wahoo Nation.

The South Carolina transfer who Joe Harris, now in the NBA, anointed as the team’s best player during Gill’s redshirt year in 2012-2013, couldn’t get on the court consistently until late January as he struggled to learn Bennett’s Pack Line.

Once he got the D down, Gill became the force in the paint on the other end that Harris had promised, scoring in double figures in six consecutive games in March and being named to the All-ACC Tournament team.

“I know it sounds funny, but we make them work on that end when they’re trying to score, and most of the time we’re getting shot-clock violations or getting a stop, and then on offense, we make them work. We run them off screens, flare screens, pick-and-rolls, all that stuff, and we take time off the clock.”

You could argue that the patience on offense, the patterned screens, pick-and-rolls, over and over and over, make the defense more effective, too.

But to Gill, it starts and ends on defense.

“Teams don’t want to deal with that the whole game, and I think we wear teams down throughout the game, and that really allows us to impose our will on them, especially late in the game, when everybody is tired. We end up having more juice because we have more confidence in our defense, and we have more confidence in our offense because we’ve been making them work the whole game,” Gill said.

– Column by Chris Graham

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is available for $25.

The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
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