Gators face unique challenge in Virginia’s defense

ORLANDO | By now, everyone gets it about Virginia’s basketball team.

 

Florida’s second-round NCAA Tournament opponent leads the nation in defense, allowing only 55.6 points per game. They’re 64-2 under eighth-year coach Tony Bennett when holding opponents to less than 50 points, 9-0 this season.

The Cavaliers have forced 12 opponents into in-game scoring droughts of five minutes or longer. And they do it by starting four guards (and playing five at times during games), forcing teams into a methodical pace that is maddening and relying on the steady leadership of senior point guard London Perrantes, who lead Virginia in scoring (12.9 per game), assists (3.8), free-throw percentage (.809) and minutes (32.2).

“They’re different … I’ve never seen a team play the way they play,” said Gators forward Devin Robinson. “It’s real methodical and real different.”

And real good.

The fourth-seeded Gators (25-8) will play the fifth-seeded Cavs (23-10) tonight in a second-round NCAA East Regional game and will be going against a team that not only has a unique style, but four starters and seven players overall who have NCAA Tournament experience.

Virginia has won 22 or more games for a seventh year in a row and has a five-year streak of reaching the NCAA tournament and a seven-year post-season run.

By contrast, UF senior point Kasey Hill is the only one of the team with extensive NCAA experience before Thursday’s 80-65 victory over East Tennessee.

“What makes them good? Everything.” said Florida coach Mike White. “They’re so sound. They make you play differently. They don’t turn the ball over.”

The Gators obviously will try to keep UVA from dictating their slow-paced tempo and get into transition.

So would almost everyone who plays the Cavs.

“We’re a team that has had success in transition offense, in the open floor, off turnovers,” White said. “And we’re a team that has struggled at times in the half court. We’re going to have to score in the half court. I don’t know how many opportunities there will be.”

In addition to leading the nation in scoring defense, Virginia is first in fewest turnovers per game (9.5, as opposed to UF’s 11.9) and is 13th in field-goal percentage defense (.396).

The Gators are no slouch. UF is defending the 3-point shot better than UVA (.310, 19th in the nation, vs. Virginia’s .315, 31st) and is allowing 66.5 points per game, 46th in the nation and third in the SEC.

Florida can also take a page from the UNC-Wilmington playbook.

The Seahawks jumped out to a quick start in the first-round game on Thursday and built a 26-11 lead. Virginia stormed back and won 76-71, but it was only the second game this season the Cavaliers have won when giving up 70 or more points. UVA is 2-3 in those games.

“We’ve got to play defense and get in transition. get stops and get out and speed the game up and make them play at a different style,” Robinson said. “We can’t let them be comfortable. If they can be comfortable, it will be a long game for us.”

Perrantes and Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Virginia may be in store for a similar game against the Gators.

Florida guard Canyon Barry said there’s also a difference between not wanting to play at Virginia’s pace and getting in too much of a hurry.

“There’s a fine balance,” he said. “We don’t want to be trying to play so fast and push the tempo so much that we get out of rhythm and commit turnovers. We have to trust the game plan and trust our coaches.”

Florida vs. Virginia

What: NCAA Tournament

When: 8:40 p.m., Saturday

Where: Amway Center, Orlando

TV: TNT

FLORIDA VS. VIRGINIA

When: 8:40 p.m., Saturday

Where: Amway Center, Orlando.

TV/Radio: TNT/WFXJ 930-AM.

Probable starters

Gators (25-8)

1 Devin Robinson, F, 6-8 Avg: 11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg

23 Justin Leon, F, 6-8 Avg: 6.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg

13 Kevarrius Hayes, C, 6-9 Avg: 6.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg

0 Kasey Hill, G, 6-1 Avg: 9.9 ppg, 4.6 apg

5 KeVaughn Allen, G, 6-2 Avg: 13.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg

Cavaliers (23-10)

33 Jack Salt, C, 6-11 Avg: 3.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg

0 Devon Hall, G, 6-5 Avg: 8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg

5 Kyle Guy, G, 6-3 Avg: 7.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg

32 London Perrantes, G, 6-2 Avg: 12.9 ppg, 3.9 apg

51 Darius Thompson, G, 6-4 Avg: 6.3 ppg, 2.1 apg

The skinny: UF faces Virginia for the third time in school history, with both previous meetings also in the post-season. The Gators lost 62-56 in the 1992 NIT and won 71-45 in the 2012 NCAA. … The Gators are 9-3 in second-round games and have won their last six at this stage. UF’s last loss in a second-round game was to Villanova in 2005. … The Cavaliers have won five of their last six games.

 

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