GREENSBORO — Virginia leads the ACC in most defensive categories and has held 31 of 33 teams under 50 percent shooting this season. But the Cavaliers will face a tough challenge from Duke’s array of 3-point shooters, and especially ACC freshman of the year Jabari Parker, the league’s No. 2 scorer at 19.2 points per game.
“You’ve got to make great scorers earn their points,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in discussing his defensive game plan for Sunday’s 1 p.m. final. “You can’t let them get going and get on a roll.
“Any player that great, that’s how they get their points. They get on a roll. You’ve got to make them earn it, make it hard for them.”
Case in point: Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson finished with a game-high 15 points in the 51-48 semifinal loss to Virginia on Saturday, but he was only 6-of-15 from the field, with redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon mostly drawing the defensive assignment.
Bennett, whose trademark “Pack Line” defense espouses man-to-man efforts to keep teams out of the lane, said he had no special plans for Parker. The 6-foot-8 freshman was held to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in Duke’s 69-65 victory over Virginia on Jan. 13.
“We’ll just stick with our defensive principles,” he said.
For his part, Parker said he couldn’t recall many details of how Virginia defensed him. “All I just remember is us winning and Rasheed (Sulaimon) coming through with a big play,” he said. Sulaimon hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the final seconds after Virginia had taken a one-point lead with 36 seconds remaining.
“We played them two months ago, so it’s been a long time,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke knocked off N.C. State in the second semifinal. “We’ll study them tonight and hopefully be ready by 1 o’clock tomorrow.”
Krzyzewski also praised the play of the Cavaliers under Bennett this season.
“Tony has done a sensational job,” Krzyzewski said. “What he’s done is build a program. It’s not just a Virginia team, it’s a Virginia program. It’s based on solid play and solid character. Those kids on that team have great character. They don’t care who scores, as long as Virginia scores.”
• History lesson: With their success this season, the Virginia players and coaches have been getting frequent history updates to the school’s basketball heyday of the 1970s and ’80s. Their 27 victories are the most since 1982-83, when Ralph Sampson led the Cavaliers to 29.
They earned their second outright ACC regular-season championship, last done by the 1980-81 Sampson team. And they’re bidding for their second ACC tournament crown, having won it in 1976 (at Landover, Md.). And to further the ironic parallels, former Virginia coach Terry Holland, the architect of those teams, was honored at Saturday’s games among 15 ACC legends.
“Yeah, it’s been a while so it’s good we’re having this conversation right now,” Bennett said. “Obviously what they did was special, because of how special the ACC tournament is. But it would be great to put up another banner and have that to share with them.”
Bennett said he has talked often with Holland, although not in Greensboro this weekend, and also got a congratulatory message from Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who played on Virginia’s 1984 Final Four team.
Father knows best: Tony Bennett has used his father Dick Bennett’s “Pack Line” defense with great success in rebuilding Virginia’s program, and he also borrowed one of the former coach’s sayings during his postgame diagnosis for the media.
The elder Bennett, who rarely attends his son’s games, was present for Saturday’s victory. “He showed up at 9 this morning, and I laughed because he delivered a message,” Tony said. “He said, ‘This is going to be a blue-collar knuckle-buster,’ ” in reference to the expected defensive battle between Virginia and Pittsburgh.
“That was his term. It truly was in terms of how physical. It was a blue-collar game.”
Will his father attend Sunday’s game? “It’s 50-50,” the Virginia coach said.