December 05, 2014

Virginia put together one of its best seasons ever in 2013-14 primarily by locking up opposing offenses - and it looks the part of an elite defensive squad again.

The seventh-ranked Cavaliers will be tasked with slowing down one of the nation's best backcourt duos in Saturday's visit to VCU.

Virginia allowed a Division I-best 55.7 points per game last season and held opponents to 38.8 percent field-goal shooting to rank ninth. The Cavaliers went 30-7 and reached a regional semifinal in the NCAA tournament - their deepest run in 19 years.

Not much has changed for Virginia (8-0), which ranks second nationally with 46.3 points per game allowed. Its defensive field-goal percentage of 31.1 is also one of the best in the country.

The Cavaliers gave up a season high for points in Wednesday's 76-65 win at No. 21 Maryland, but held the Terrapins - who entered the game shooting 49.3 percent - to 40.0 percent in dealing them their first loss.

Malcolm Brogdon scored a team-high 18 points and Virginia's 53.1 field-goal percentage was its best against a ranked opponent since it recorded the same mark in a 74-68 loss to Maryland on March 6, 2010.

"Nothing flashy, but it's our way," coach Tony Bennett said. "Our chance to be good is for us to be as close to great defensively as we can, and solid and sound offensively."

Virginia may need an even better defensive effort with leading scorer Justin Anderson questionable. Anderson, averaging 15.1 points and shooting 56.7 percent from 3-point range, exited Wednesday's game with a left ankle injury. Darion Atkins, the team's third-leading rebounder with 5.9 per game, also left with a back injury.

VCU won 59-56 last year in the teams' first meeting in 15 years, just its second victory in 12 all-time meetings. Treveon Graham scored a game-high 22 points and hit a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left. He was 8 of 15 from the field while his teammates were a combined 16 for 43 against Virginia's stout defense.

Graham averaged a team-best 15.8 points last season with the now-departed Juvonte Reddic at 11.8 and Melvin Johnson adding 10.4. Graham is averaging 17.4 this season and shooting 40.0 percent from 3-point range, but VCU's offense has evolved into more of a two-headed monster with Johnson at 17.1 points per game.

Johnson scored 19 and was 5 of 10 from 3-point range in Tuesday's 66-62 win at Illinois State, helping the Rams improve to 5-2.

Graham and Johnson are the first Division I teammates in five seasons to average at least 17.0 points and 2.0 3-pointers per game while shooting 44.0 percent from the field.

"When he's making threes, shooting the way I know he can shoot, people have to respect him. They can't help off that corner and that allows me to drive the lane and creates a lot more shots for me," Graham said of Johnson. "Once he makes that first one, once he sees that ball go through the net, it's pretty hard to stop him."

This game will feature a distinct difference in tempos with VCU averaging 61.4 shots in part due to its full-court "Havoc" defense, while Virginia limits opponents to 49.0.

Anderson and Brogdon struggled in last year's meeting, scoring a combined 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

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