December 20, 2014

Virginia has set a high bar for defensive prowess during coach Tony Bennett's tenure, and this season's squad is on pace to finish as his stingiest yet.

The sixth-ranked Cavaliers, though, have needed a little more scoring to pull to the brink of their best start in 22 seasons. To secure that Sunday, they'll have to get past a well-rested Harvard team that's also achieved its recent success in large part by slowing down opponents.

Virginia leads the nation with 56.2 points allowed per game over the past five seasons - Bennett took over in 2009-10 - and this season's team is giving up just 48.1 points on 32.7 percent shooting. The Cavaliers' average of 54.2 points allowed in 2011-12 is their lowest since the NCAA introduced the shot clock in 1985-86.

The average has jumped to 58.7 points allowed in three games this month, but they've stayed unbeaten by making strides offensively with 73.3 points per contest on 56.7 percent shooting. The Cavaliers (10-0) averaged 66.9 points and shot 46.0 percent in their first seven games.

They returned from an 11-day break for exams to beat Cleveland State 70-54 on Thursday. Justin Anderson had 14 of his 16 points in the second half, Malcolm Brogdon also scored 16 and Anthony Gill reached double figures for the sixth straight game with 13.

"We have so many offensive weapons," forward Evan Nolte told the school's official website after scoring a season-high eight points. "It's really hard to contain all of us, especially when we're playing with confidence."

Virginia, winners in 16 in a row at home, next seek to improve to 11-0 for the first time since 1992-93 in its first matchup against Harvard (7-1), which has been off the past 12 days.

The Crimson are also among the nation's best defensive teams, allowing 56.1 points per game on 37.4 percent shooting. Their play at that end of the court helped atone for another subpar shooting effort in a 70-56 win over Boston University on Dec. 8.

Harvard shot 39.2 percent in its sixth consecutive victory after connecting at a season-low 35.2 percent in a 64-52 double-overtime win at Vermont two days earlier. The Crimson shot 51.3 percent through their first six games.

During its run of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Harvard is among the top 15 defensive teams nationally with 59.9 points allowed per game.

Wesley Saunders was one of three scorers averaging in double figures the past two seasons, but he's the only one this season at 20.1 points. The Crimson, winners in eight straight road games, will seek to improve to 14-14 against major conference opponents in coach Tommy Amaker's eight seasons.

Harvard has won three of its last seven games against AP Top 25 teams but will be facing its highest-ranked opponent since an 81-52 loss at No. 4 Connecticut on Dec. 22, 2010.

"They are another well-coached team that has really established itself. That program is really cooking, and we will have to be ready to go," Bennett said.

The Crimson have lost their last four visits to Top 25 opponents since an 82-70 win over No. 17 Boston College on Jan. 7, 2009.

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