Virginia-Florida St. Preview
(AP) - Virginia coach Tony Bennett responded defiantly before the complete question was even asked about his team's defensive philosophy.
No, he said, No. 13 Virginia has not changed its identity from a defense-minded team to one that focuses more on offense. The coach also said if the Cavaliers want to reach their potential, they need to start playing better defense.
"We're a work in progress, and you always are defensively, but it's so much of a mindset," Bennett said Tuesday night after the Cavaliers (13-3, 2-2 ACC) beat No. 8 Miami 66-58.
They seek a similar performance Sunday night at Florida State after ending a two-game slide in which they'd uncharacteristically allowed Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech to shoot 53 percent from 3-point range.
The Hurricanes shot just 42 percent overall and 27.3 percent from 3-point range. Bennett, though, felt like the Cavaliers were only marginally responsible, allowing too many unimpeded drives to the rim and too many open jumpers that just happened to miss.
"They missed sometimes maybe more than we stopped them, but again, very thankful for the win," he said. "Please don't mistake that because I know we needed it, but I know what's looking us in the eye, and I'm realistic."
His players were well aware that the victory didn't solve all their deficiencies.
"We still have a long way to go," forward Anthony Gill said. "We're not up to par where we need to be defensively yet, but it was a good win for us. Losing these last two games, we weren't playing Virginia basketball and that's not what we do."
Gill had 15 points Tuesday and has scored in double figures in all 16 games. Malcolm Brogdon scored 20 to increase his team-leading average to 17.0, but he's been struggling from 3-point range at 3 for 17 in the last three games.
Bennett made it very clear that any notion his team has figured things out because it won is wrong.
"The finesse game doesn't work when you get into conference play," he said. "It's a physical game. ... Most leagues, you can't get away with just kind of a polite game."
While Virginia still leads the ACC in points allowed at 60.7 per game, Florida State (11-5, 1-3) ranks second to last at 73.6.
The Seminoles went 10-2 in non-conference games - their best start since 2010-11 - but for the second straight season they've lost three of their first four in the ACC.
With four freshmen and a junior college transfer, coach Leonard Hamilton expected inexperience to be more evident, but he's started to see signs that his team might be turning the corner after Wednesday's 85-78 victory at North Carolina State.
"It's hard when you are dealing with guys who have not been there and done it but they are growing and learning," Hamilton said. "Sometimes it is hard to understand how hard it is to play and how difficult the challenge is until you get to conference play. I think they are getting that now."
Malik Beasley (17.1 points per game) and Dwayne Bacon (16.6) continue to be first and second in the ACC in scoring among freshmen, but they have had to adjust to opponents who have scouted every tendency.
Bacon is averaging 13.3 points in conference games, including only 3.0 in the first half while shooting 4 of 24. Beasley is averaging 18.3 points in league play with two of his seven 20-point games, but in two contests he has been held to fewer than five points the first 20 minutes.
"People are gearing their defenses to take certain things away. That's why we can't put the burden on them to produce at an experienced player's rate," Hamilton said.
Florida State has lost five straight and 10 of 11 against ranked teams. It also has a five-game losing streak against Virginia.
Going into Sunday's game, Hamilton has stressed taking the best and highest-percentage shot.
"We've got to be really patient because they are going to bait you into taking uncontested 3s," guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes said. "Sometimes the best thing, especially in a half-court offense, is reversing it one or two more times to get the best look."