CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -Tony Bennett was so proud of his team's defense that he virtually ignored a question about his team's surprising start to crow and gush a bit.
``I'd like to talk about that first half defensively,' he said after Virginia beat No. 23 Miami 75-57 on Saturday night for its seventh straight victory. ``That was what I've been waiting to see, the first half. I thought defensively it was one of our better performances.'
Bennett is not alone in taking that pride, which may explain why the Cavaliers (11-4, 3-0) are the only remaining unbeaten team in Atlantic Coast Conference, are off to their best start in the league in 15 years and are 3-0 against ranked teams.
``We know we're not the most athletic team, we might not be the most talented team, but we feel like our defense is what will really help us win games,' Sylven Landesberg said after Virginia held Miami to 31.5 percent shooting and finally pulled away in the final minutes.
With each victory, Landesberg said, the defense-first style that Bennett has insisted they play has been reinforced, and the celebrations in the locker rooms have done it, too.
``We all want the same thing,' Landesberg said. ``We all want to keep winning, we love the feeling and we want to keep going with it. We just keep going into practice the same way, practice hard, and we go into games the same way. We don't take anything for granted.'
Miami (15-3, 1-3) concluded a dismal trip to Virginia. The Hurricanes joined the Top 25 this week for the third year in a row, a program first, but trailed at Virginia Tech by as many as 35 in the first half Wednesday night in an 81-66 loss - then they came to Virginia.
``It's been a tough trip,' Miami coach Frank Haith said.
The Cavaliers did nothing to disappoint an energized crowd of 11,413, taking a 33-21 halftime lead and never letting Miami get closer than nine in the closing 20 minutes.
``I think our defense kept us in the game in the first half because our offense was sluggish, and we weren't executing,' said Sammy Zeglinski. He scored 10 points, none bigger than a 3-pointer that sparked a late 10-2 run that allowed them to open a 69-51 lead.
Mustapha Farrakhan scored 13 points and Mike Scott also had 10 for Virginia, which shot 52 percent. The 6-foot Zeglinski and 5-11 Jontel Evans shared the rebounding lead with seven.
Haith said he has not been surprised by the Cavaliers start.
``I thought they were going to be good this year, They're playing confidently,' he said.
Shortly after Malcolm Grant's jumper pulled the Hurricanes to 55-46 with 7:51 to play, Zeglinski's 3-pointer sparked the separating run for Virginia that gave them a comfortable margin, and Bennett was allowed to empty his bench in the closing minutes.
James Dews led Miami with 13 points and Dwayne Collins had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Miami missed its first nine shots and made only 5 of 23 in the opening half, trailing 33-21 at halftime. The Hurricanes were within 10 in the final seconds, but Jontel Evans grabbed a loose ball and swished a high-arching shot from about 15 feet at the buzzer.
The Hurricanes stayed in it at the foul line, outscoring Virginia 10-1 in the half.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved