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Virginia topples No. 15 Minnesota

Virginia's K.T. Harrell goes to the basket against Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)
Virginia's K.T. Harrell goes to the basket against Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid) (Tom Olmscheid - AP)

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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 12:22 AM

MINNEAPOLIS - With 17 minutes 36 seconds remaining in the second half Monday night, Virginia freshman guard Joe Harris made a three-pointer to cut the Cavaliers' deficit to five. Five seconds later, Minnesota guard Blake Hoffarber responded with a three-pointer of his own.

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This was what longtime college basketball coach Dick Bennett was talking about when he told the Cavaliers during dinner Sunday night that, as Harris later recalled, "our transition defense was just terrible."

But thanks to the hot-shooting of Harris and senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan - who combined to make 8 of 11 three-point attempts - Virginia remained in contention long enough to correct its flaws. The Cavaliers trailed No. 15 Minnesota by 13 and led by 14 during a second half in which Virginia's adjustments eventually led to an 87-79 victory, its first on the road over a ranked opponent since 2007.

This was what Bennett was talking about when he told the Cavaliers (4-3) during that same meal that they played with great heart and were an above-average shooting team.

"We had to keep making" shots, said Tony Bennett, Dick's son and Virginia's second-year coach, "because we sure weren't stopping them."

The Cavaliers shot 47.3 percent from the field and 76.9 percent (10 for 13) from three-point range en route to tallying the largest scoring output of Tony Bennett's tenure in Charlottesville. Minnesota, meantime, shot 50 percent from the field and made 9 of 22 shots (40.9 percent) from beyond the arc.

But Virginia's victory was sparked by strategy as much as a scintillating shooting performance. Facing a much bigger Minnesota lineup, Bennett had three players constantly rotating throughout the post and setting screens for one another. The idea was to keep the Golden Gophers' big men moving so they would not be able to contain forward Mike Scott to one area of the floor.

Scott finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Harris frequently found himself with good looks from the perimeter. He shot 4 for 6 from three-point range and finished with a game-high 24 points.

Harris "did some things that were very un-freshman-like," Bennett said.

Farrakhan did some things that were uncharacteristic as well, considering his recent performances. Farrakhan entered the night fresh off a three-game stretch at the Maui Invitational in which he shot 37.5 percent (6 for 16) from the field and did not make a three-point attempt.

But in the first half Monday night, Farrakhan was a primary reason why the Cavaliers trailed by only 10 at the intermission. He made all four of his three-point attempts before the break and finished with 23 points.

"I was just reading my defender when I came off the screens," Farrakhan said.

Virginia tallied just three turnovers in the second half after giving up eight in the first. The Cavaliers outrebounded Minnesota (6-1) by five after the break. And after Bennett issued an ultimatum to either get back in transition defense or be removed from the game, Virginia stopped ceding fast-break points.

"That's been a pattern for us: loose turnovers, giving up some transition baskets and some of the rebounds," Bennett said. "Those are the three areas we always start with to be solid, and I didn't think we were. But then we shored that up."

yandas@washpost.com


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