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Virginia Shows Off Its Frighteningly Good Defense in Big ACC Win vs. Louisville

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 8, 2015

Geoff Burke/USA Today

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Scoring is down in college hoops, and Virginia head coach Tony Bennett wouldn't have it any other way.

"We made (Louisville) earn it," he said after the game. "It was just a hard, slugfest, defensive game. I told our guys before, 'You're gonna have to put your hard hat on tonight.'"

It certainly wasn't a game for the faint of heart, as the two teams combined to score less than 100 pointsthe fourth time this season that has happened in a game involving Virginia.

"Their defense is awesome," said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. "I won't take anything away from that, but our offense was ridiculous. We just didn't run our sets; we didn't move the ball."

Pitino added, "We worked very hard for three days at a way to beat their defense, and we ignored it in the first half...If you do that, you're going to make Virginia look like the greatest defensive team in the history of the game."

History might be overstepping things a little bit, but who's to say Virginia isn't the greatest defensive team of the past decade?

In beating the Cardinals by a score of 52-47 on Saturday night, the Cavaliers have now held 12 of their 22 opponents this season to 51 or fewer points.

Entering the game, the Cavaliers had held their opponents scoreless for five or more minutes 19 different times. They also had held opponents without a field goal for a stretch of at least eight minutes on seven occasions.

But what they did to Louisville in the first half on Saturday night was just plain ridiculouseven for them.

Feb 7, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Chris Jones (3) shoots the ball over Virginia Cavaliers forward Anthony Gill (13) in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers won 52-47. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TOD
USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals didn't score a single point in the final 10:33 before halftime. Throw in the 91 seconds it took them to score in the second half and they went more than 12 minutes with 13 points on the scoreboard.

"Getting back in transition was the big thing," senior forward Anthony Gill said after the game. "When they're running up and down the court and Montrezl (Harrell) is dunking every time, that's when he gets them going."

"Our defense was amazing," Gill continued. "To hold them to 13 points in the first half...it was great to see our defensive principles come to play."

And the longer Louisville went without a bucket, the more the crowd got into it.

With 10 seconds left on the shot clock late in the first half, the scoreboards started flashing "LOUD!" The fans were more than happy to oblige that request. And when Isaiah Wilkins swatted Wayne Blackshear's layup attempt into Virginia's bench as the shot clock expired, the jubilation might have measured on the Richter scale.

"You could hear the noise as the shot clock went down. I'm usually so locked into what's going on, but I noticed that," Bennett said with a chuckle. "The home crowd was terrific. We needed every ounce of emotion and energy they gave us."

The way Virginia's fans have completely bought into the pack-line defense might be the most impressive part of it all. If "chicks dig the long ball" in baseball, then most basketball fans dig the high-scoring affairs.

Not in John Paul Jones Arena, where Bennett gets greeted with a louder pregame ovation than his starting five combined.

And why not?

With this win over Pitino, Bennett is currently the only head coach in the country with a win over all five active Hall of Fame coachesMike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Larry Brown.

Not bad for a guy who still hasn't reached 200 wins in his career. But don't let that "inexperience" fool you. Both he and Virginia are among the very best in the country right now.

Feb 2, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Virginia Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon (15) and guard Justin Anderson (1) react in the second half. The Cavaliers defeated the Tar Heels 75-64 at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

According to KenPom.com, the Cavaliers have the second-most efficient defense in the country. Their two-point field-goal defense has been especially brilliant, limiting opponents to 38.7 percent shooting inside the arc.

It was more of the same on Saturday as they completely stifled the Cardinals' primary big man early and often"post-trapping" Harrell, as described by both Gill and Mike Tobey after the game.

"They're an excellent team," said Pitino. "Every coach talks about a fistall five guys being togetherand they've got a great fist."

Unfortunately, one of the fingers of that fist in going to be out of commission for a few weeks.

Justin Anderson appeared to injure his hand late in the first half, heading straight to the team doctor after having a shot blocked in the paint. He didn't play at all in the second half, and according to David Teel of the Daily Press, he's going to be out for up to a month after having surgery to fix the injury:

David Teel @DavidTeelatDP

Justin Anderson's recovery time 3-4 weeks. Surgery w/in 48 hours. #UVa

Just a few days ago, I wrote about Anderson being Virginia's most indispensable player, so this is going to be a tough pill to swallow.

Junior forward Evan Nolte played 16 minutes in the second half with Anderson on the sideline, but look for Marial Shayok and Devon Hall to get increased playing time in Anderson's stead.

Even before he knew the extent of Anderson's injury, Bennett offered some speculation, saying, "I like what Evan gave us, but depending on what happens with Justin, we've got Marial and Devon, and you've always got to be ready."

And it certainly doesn't hurt that the schedule is about to get a whole lot easier compared to these past three games against Associated Press Top 15 teams. Until the rematch at Louisville on March 7, Virginia doesn't face a single team currently projected to make the NCAA tournament.

Easy schedule or not, Bennett might be the one coach in the country who could figure out how to navigate this minor pothole on Virginia's road to the Final Four.

The Cavaliers still have Malcolm Brogdon. They still have London Perrantes. But most importantly, they still have the coach who has systemically turned them into a defensive juggernaut over the past six years.

The offense might suffer a bit without Anderson, but that just means the defense will need to be better than ever.

Which it already has been.

All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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