Nati Harnik, Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — Virginia will put its pack-line defense on display for the nation on Friday against a Florida team well-suited for attacking it.
"Our two systems are definitely going to clash," Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski said. "They like to get up and down the court and shoot quick in the shot clock and we like to play the half-court game and run some clock. We're going to impose our game plan, and they'll try to do the same. Should be interesting."
The 10th-seeded Cavaliers (22-9) have only seven scholarship players available, making it imperative for their slow-down game to keep the score low if they hope to beat the No. 7 Gators (23-10) in the NCAA West Regional.
"I think every game you are trying to impose your will on the other team, so to speak, but I think regardless of where the score is at, our team has an opportunity to win," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.
Florida's fabulous trio of guards leads an offense that averages better than 76 points a game and ranks first nationally with 9.9 3-pointers a game.
"Their offense gives anybody trouble," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
The pack-line defense is essentially a man-to-man system that starts with each Virginia player stationed along an imaginary arc about 16 feet from the basket. A defender doesn't cross the line unless his man gets the ball. When the ball is passed, the defender goes back to the pack and a different defender goes out to cover his man.
If the ball penetrates the pack, defenders collapse on the player with the ball and work to force a turnover. Dick Bennett, Tony's father, invented the defense 20 years ago when he was coaching at Wisconsin.
The Cavs are allowing only 53.7 points a game. They limited North Carolina to 54 points in a three-point loss three weeks ago. Georgia Tech mustered only 38; Wake Forest and Maryland just 44.
"We've seen every type of defense," said Florida guard Kenny Boynton. "The type of offense we have, we can adjust to any type of defense."
If the pack-line defense is vulnerable to anything, it's opponents that are hitting perimeter shots.
Florida surely is capable of being one of those teams. Each of Florida's starters average in double figures, led by All-Southeastern Conference picks Boynton at 16.3 points a game and Bradley Beal at 14.6.
The Gators have connected on 10 or more 3-pointers in 21 games and have made a school-record 328 in all.
Boynton, Erik Murphy and Scottie Wilbekin all are shooting 40 percent or better on 3s, and Florida is making 39 percent as a team.
The Cavaliers have been effective defending the 3-point field goal, allowing opponents to shoot 29 percent from behind the arc.
The key will be for Virginia's defenders to stay disciplined and contest shots against a Florida team that is effective spacing the floor and running plays off ball screens.
"It's our system and we're going to play it to our fullest and make them earn the shots they get," Tony Bennett said.
Virginia hopes it's catching the Gators at a good time. The Gators have lost four of their past five games, though two of the defeats are to top-ranked Kentucky, and Boynton has shot 23 percent the past three games. Boynton said he won't be timid Friday.
"Basically, my thought is if I'm open, I'm going to shoot it," he said. "That's what coach Donovan says to me. If it's not my night, it's not my night."
The Gators say they aren't even thinking about their recent losses.
"We've been up and down this year," guard Erving Walker said. "We could have had a better season so far, but this is a new season. Our ceiling is very high. Hopefully we can make this a long trip."
The Gators, who won national championships in 2006-07, are in the tournament for the third straight year after making it to the regional finals last season.
Virginia, in its third season under Bennett, is making its first NCAA appearance since 2007.
"At first we were celebrating and happy when we saw our name called," said All-ACC forward Mike Scott. "We want to go deep into the tournament and win some games. We're not settling for being happy to be here."
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