Virginia defense: Getting there?

virginia basketballVirginia coach Tony Bennett has been searching for a defensive identity for his team basically since the beginning of the season in November.

The Cavs played solid defense in their 73-65 win over Syracuse Sunday night, limiting the Orange to 38.9 percent shooting for the night, and 34.4 percent in the second half.

But … the ‘Cuse did hit 13 threes, even if they came on a jaw-dropping 30 jacks from long-range.

Bennett didn’t sound worried about that after the game.

“I think there were a couple of times where we could have been higher on the ball or chased them off the three-point line, but the majority of their shots were really deep and nice plays. If guys are hitting tough, contested threes, you have to tip your hat to them at times,” Bennett said.

Michael Gbinije was 5-of-9 from three-point range, and Malachi Richardson was 6-of-10. The two combined for 47 points on 15-of-28 shooting from the field.

The rest of the Orange had 18 points and was 6-of-26 from the field.

Marksman Trevor Cooney had eight, and was 3-of-13 from the field, and had to work for what little he got.

Power forward Tyler Roberson had six points and seven rebounds, but was just 3-for-9 from the field, and Syracuse could get nothing going in the post, scoring just 12 points in the paint.

You look at the numbers – those 12 points in the paint, 30 three-point jacks – and you have to say, by and large, the defense worked.

“I think we still have a ways to go,” said senior forward Anthony Gill, who was solid on the defensive end Sunday, after a subpar effort in Tuesday’s win over Clemson, in which Jaron Blossomgame lit Virginia, for the most part, Gill, for 23.

“We’re getting there. We’re taking steps every game,” Gill said. “It’s something that we are really working on and really putting at the forefront because we understand UVA basketball. Coach Bennett ‘s system is built upon our defense, and when we have little lapses like we did tonight where we let guys shoot three-pointers over top of us like that, we need to have better ball pressure and those are just the little things that can get this defense going more.

“They made some really good three-pointers, but we just can’t have those kinds of lapses. For us to be the team that we want to be, we are going to have to put ball pressure on them and make them even more uncomfortable.”

Syracuse made the numbers look better than they were by going bonkers late from three, hitting 4-of-6 in a stretch in the final four minutes to briefly get back in the game.

The game played with the Orange hoisting a ton of wild shots, and Virginia getting rebounds.

But the hot stretch at the end will linger with Bennett’s team.

“I thought we could have affected them,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “I thought they hit some deep three-pointers, I thought they hit a lot of really tough shots, but I thought that we could have had a hand up most of the time, myself included. I thought we backed off because we didn’t want them to drive or didn’t want them to draw a foul on us. I think we have to be a little more aggressive on the ball.”

– Story by Chris Graham

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