February 15, 2015

Coach Tony Bennett has instilled a defense-first mentality that has resonated so effectively with No. 2 Virginia that his team seems to prefer being on that end of the floor with the game on the line.

The Cavaliers appear to be in for a tough test Monday night against a visiting Pittsburgh team coming off a season-best offensive performance that toppled another ranked ACC foe.

Virginia (23-1, 11-1) is allowing the fewest points per game in the nation at 50.9 and ranks third in defensive field-goal percentage at 35.7. After a rare halftime deficit at home, the Cavaliers got a steal from Malcolm Brogdon in the final seconds Saturday to preserve a 61-60 win over Wake Forest.

They've won four straight since falling to No. 4 Duke at home Jan. 31, with the last three coming by a total of 10 points.

"We just told ourselves that we need this stop," said Brogdon, who had a season-high four steals. "This is what we do. This is what we pride ourselves on, so let's get it done."

Anthony Gill hit 7 of 10 from the field and finished with 19 points for Virginia, which tied the 1980-81 squad for the best start in school history.

"That was awesome for us just to go out there and get that stop," Gill said. "I think sometimes we'd rather be on defense the last play than offense."

The Cavaliers won a pair of defensive battles with the Panthers last season. Brogdon hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for 48-45 victory at No. 18 Pittsburgh on Feb. 2 before Virginia's 51-48 win in the ACC tournament semifinals March 15.

The Panthers (17-9, 6-6) have had their share of ups and downs this season, but they've won four of their last five. They began that stretch by shooting 58.5 percent in a 76-72 win over then-No. 8 Notre Dame on Jan. 31, and the latest hot-shooting performance came in Saturday's 89-76 victory over then-No. 12 North Carolina.

Pittsburgh hit a season-best 64.9 percent from the field and finished with 30 assists, its most since having 33 in a win over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Dec. 18, 2010, and the most by an ACC team in a conference game since January 2002.

Sheldon Jeter had a career-high 22 points in his second straight start, while Cameron Wright finished with 15 and 10 assists in a much-needed resume booster for the Panthers.

''It's no secret we're a bubble team right now,'' Wright said. ''We didn't want to let the opportunity pass us.''

Coach Jamie Dixon didn't celebrate the win over the Tar Heels too long. Virginia has held its lead atop the ACC despite playing the last two without Justin Anderson, who was averaging 13.4 points when he suffered a fractured finger in a win over then-No. 9 Louisville on Feb. 7 that will force him to miss four to six weeks.

"We already have shifted the focus. We are moving on to Virginia," Dixon said. "What they've done defensively speaks for itself. We understand that and have to guard them well to make them take jump shots. We'll do everything we can to get ready."

Forcing the Cavaliers to the outside appears to be the best plan. Virginia is shooting 16.2 percent from 3-point range over its last three.

This will be Pittsburgh's first trip to Charlottesville since 1976.

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