CHARLOTTESVILLE, DEC. 8 -- Coach Jeff Jones would like to think Virginia's first-half mastery of Vanderbilt tonight was a byproduct of the Cavaliers' renewed defensive vigor or, at the very least, enough to withstand the Commodores without an adventuresome second half.
But Vanderbilt, facing its third top 25 opponent of the season, overcame a 12-minute, first-half scoring slump to make Virginia's fifth win a difficult one, finally falling, 70-56.
"We told the guys at halftime not to feel overconfident because they missed some shots during that stretch," Jones said. "I do credit the defense, but they missed some shots out there."
"We really shut them down," Virginia point guard John Crotty said. "We took them a step out of the spots they wanted to be in and that makes a difference."
The No. 21 Cavaliers (5-2), who completed a stretch of six games in 11 days Monday by defeating No. 11 Pittsburgh in the first game of the ACC-Big East Challenge, won their first game in four tries against Vanderbilt and third straight since losing to New Orleans here Nov. 30.
Tonight's game marked the return to the type of hounding defense that was the trademark of teams coached by Jones's predecessor, Terry Holland. Jones pledged a more up-tempo style of offense before the season, but the tradeoff has been a lackadaisical defensive effort.
"We're back to playing Virginia basketball," said Jones, whose team will play just once -- an exhibition here Dec. 17 against Athletes in Action -- in the next 11 days while the team takes its final exams. "For three games now, we've played with the work ethic and intensity to be a very good basketball team. . . . I'd like to keep playing but that's not possible."
Crotty connected on five of nine three-pointers and finished with a game-high 26. Bryant Stith, who practiced Friday for the first time since spraining an ankle against Pittsburgh, finished with 15. Anthony Oliver added 14. Bruce Elder finished with 13 for Vanderbilt (3-3), which faces No. 13 Georgia Tuesday.
"We certainly stunk up the place out there," Vanderbilt Coach Eddie Fogler said. "That was obvious. Their defense was good, but we got to the point where we were intimidated. . . . If we don't play better than that in the first half, we won't win another game. We're very mediocre right now and probably will stay that way unless Santa comes early."
Fred Benjamin's basket not quite six minutes into the game gave Vanderbilt its final lead and last basket until Scott Draud connected from 18 feet with 2:05 remaining in the first half. The Commodores committed nine turnovers and missed 15 shots in the interval, finishing the half shooting 30 percent.
Draud, Vanderbilt's leading scorer, was held by Oliver and Cornel Parker to six points, nine below his average, and attempted only seven shots.
Virginia scored 22 unanswered points, but managed only a 43 percent first-half shooting effort. Still, the Cavaliers allowed Vanderbilt only four points in 15 minutes, leading at the half, 33-17.
Vanderbilt cut the Virginia lead to six midway through the second half on a three-pointer by Elder, but Crotty's fourth three-pointer two minutes later pushed the Virginia advantage to 12. "I never felt like I was having any shooting difficulties," said Crotty, who shot 41 percent for Virginia's first six games. "I think I'll always be prone to streaks."