- - Sunday, December 18, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — During a 12-day break for exams, Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett focused on a topic near and dear to his heart: defense.

To say that Bennett emphasizes defense might be an understatement, and the break was another opportunity to drive key points home.

“Defense never rests,” he said. “Just because you’ve done it a few times, you can’t assume it will always be there. It’s a renewed effort every night.”

The Cavaliers will try to get right back into a winning mindset when they tip off against Oregon on Sunday afternoon. They’ll stay on the West Coast for a Wednesday game against Seattle.

Virginia’s offense has occasionally struggled to get in a groove this season, but the defense has ensured that the team stays competitive.

No opponent has scored 60 points against the Wahoos.

“Guys are just buying in,” guard Jontel Evans said. “They see that our defense is working, and they’re committed to playing it. Everybody knows that’s our bread and butter, and our best chance of winning games.”

Evans thinks that having played under Bennett for three years has helped out, as the coach runs a complicated system that he said he didn’t fully grasp until the offseason.

The Pack-Line defense allows for man-to-man coverage within about 20 feet of the basket, but defenders only pursue their man if he has the ball outside that range.

As a result, it becomes tougher for teams to get the ball to the paint, where the highest-percentage shots are.

“We really value making people work for shots,” guard Sammy Zeglinski said.

The defense has feasted on opponents so far, but the difficultly gets cranked up a notch tonight, as the final preparations begin for ACC play.

Those conference games will be tougher to dominate, but Bennett sees a team that can be competitive on a nightly basis, regardless of offensive performance.

“You might go through some tough stretches,” the coach said. “But if they’ll keep defending and keep taking care of the ball, they’re going to find themselves in a lot of games.”

Read Michael Phillips‘ Virginia blog at timesdispatch.com