Virginia’s defense has been rock solid in the first half of its last two games.
Better defense. Back to square one. More energy and execution on that end of the floor. Have to guard people. Chances are that Virginia coach Dave Leitao has uttered any one of those phrases at times this season. Apparently, someone has been listening.
Following the defensive debacle at the San Juan Shootout, the Cavaliers have defended mightily for the better part of two straight games. They have contested shots, forced dribble drives into traffic, and contained playmakers from sideline to sideline. Most recently, the Hoos hounded a talented Gonzaga group into a paltry offensive showing for 25 minutes in a dominant 108-87 win on Wednesday night.
“They really defended much better than what we had seen on film coming in,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “They got up in us, took us out of our offense, and we just didn’t have any rhythm at all.”
“I was concerned because I knew they would batten down the hatches and put a lot into this game. Again, our defense was terrific for the second game in a row early on,” Leitao said. “I thought for about 27 or 30 minutes, we played very good defense.”
Truthfully, it feels like Leitao waved some magic wand and the Hoos started to defend. The difference is that stark of a contrast from earlier games. Now if he can only get the pixie dust to last for an entire 40 minutes, something that UVa’s coach says will be a necessity as the ACC slate rolls around. He talked to his team about that very fact after the American game, during which the Cavs’ defensive intensity decreased as the minutes ticked off in with a lopsided score in the home team’s favor.
“Obviously, we didn’t do it for 40 so it gave me a window to still go into the gym and kick their rear end and try to have them play more defense because we’ve got to put 40 minutes together on that end,” Leitao said of the win over AU. “We’re going to be continuing to step up in competition, we’re going to go on the road, and do those kind of things and we have to be able to rely on that to win basketball games.”
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