The Washington Post

Virginia vs. Florida: Press break will be key in Cavaliers’ NCAA tournament opener

At the prospect of facing a seventh-seeded Florida squad that liberally implements full-court pressure defense, tenth-seeded Virginia this week prepared four different methods for breaking the press.

“I would assume one will work,” Virginia assistant Ritchie McKay said Thursday, a day before the team’s NCAA tournament opener. “Against Florida, you certainly don’t want to give them easy baskets.”

The few times Virginia has faced full-court pressure defense this season, the results were not encouraging for Coach Tony Bennett. Florida State and Maryland both utilized the press effectively against the Cavaliers, and players said Thursday they expect Florida’s pressure to be more intense than anything the Seminoles or Terrapins threw their way.

“We know they like to run their offense for 35 seconds every time they come down and run their motion,” Florida forward Patric Young said. “Hopefully we’ll run our press and give them a shorter clock when they come down on offense so they’ll have to hopefully rush into some kind of shot instead of taking their time and being comfortable.”

Sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said one thing the Gators like to do is pretend they’re backing off the press and then dashing forward into one of their various pressure sets. McKay said Florida has toned down their press somewhat since losing sophomore forward Will Yeguete – the team’s top reserve – to a season-ending foot injury Feb. 21, but he still expects the Cavaliers to receive a healthy dose of full-court pressure Friday.

Against Maryland, Virginia often in-bounded the ball to fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott against the press, but players said Thursday that was merely a circumstantial adjustment.

On Friday, fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski will inbound the ball against the press and his first look will be to try to get the pass to junior guard Jontel Evans. Should Evans be covered, Zeglinski will look for Scott or sophomore guard Joe Harris.

The Cavaliers did not want to go into specifics about the design of each of the press-break methods, but McKay said each of them counters the press based on how many opposing defenders are in the near side of the court. Some of them are drawn up to get the ball into the hands of a particular Virginia player.

Virginia had two forms of press break against Miami during last season’s first-round ACC tournament contest. As many of you remember, the Hurricanes abused the Cavaliers with full-court pressure defense in the final minute, during which time Miami erased a 10-point Virginia lead. The Cavaliers, obviously, are hoping they have better luck breaking the press Friday against Florida.

When asked for a few keys for Virginia in regards to breaking the Gators’ press, Evans offered a fairly simple response. Carrying through with it might prove easier said than done.

“Just being strong with it and take what the defense gives you,” Evans said. “If they come and trap, just make the pass and try to advance of the court.”

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