CHARLOTTESVILLE — During the summer before their first year at Virginia, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome were participating in a two-on-two drill when then-teammate Marial Shayok sprinted by and dunked over Guy, who had been woefully out of position.

"That's when Kyle knew: 'Man, I've really got to play defense here,' " Jerome said.

Said Guy, smiling mischievously: "I'm not going to lie. I was excited and thought I was going to buy in right away, but once we started practice, I was like, 'Man, this stuff sucks.' "

The humbling moment served as an awakening for the players who entered the program as accomplished scorers in high school and now constitute two-thirds of Virginia's starting backcourt. The sophomores have earned the trust of Coach Tony Bennett for their unwavering attention to his defensive blueprint.

The second-ranked Cavaliers (20-1, 9-0 ACC) have won 12 in a row heading into Wednesday night's game against visiting Louisville (16-5, 6-2) after announcing themselves as NCAA tournament title contenders this past weekend with a 65-63 victory over No. 4 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Thanks to significant contributions from Guy and Jerome, Virginia remained the lone unbeaten team in the conference in securing its first triumph at the storied venue since Jan. 14, 1995. The Cavaliers had lost their previous 17 contests there but limited the highest-scoring team in Division I (90.3 points per game) to 22 points in the first half.

Guy and Jerome combined for 30 points, with a sequence in the final minutes that underscored a poise beyond their years.

With his team nursing a two-point lead with 1:35 left in the second half and the decibel level at a fever pitch, Jerome stole a full-court pass from Blue Devils guard Trevon Duval intended for Marvin Bagley III. Had Jerome not been properly aligned defensively, Bagley's path would have been uncontested to the rim for the tying basket.

Then with 39 seconds to play, Jerome swished a three-pointer from well beyond NBA range before Guy sealed the outcome by making both ends of a one-and-one, capping a performance in which he helped limit Grayson Allen, Duke's second-leading scorer, to five points, nearly 10 below his average, on 2-for-8 shooting.

"When we miss a shot on offense, we're not very worried about it because we know our defense is going to make up for it," Guy said. "Most teams sort of feed off energy for hitting shots, and we sort of do it when we're making other teams miss."

But even as Guy continues to flourish defensively, his scoring touch remains.

The 6-foot-2 off-guard leads Virginia in points (15.2) and has reached double figures in nine of the last 10 games, including the past six in a row. His 57 three-pointers are first on the team, and he's third in three-point percentage (41.3) among Cavaliers players with at least 35 attempts.

Guy has more than doubled his scoring average from last season, when he started six games and played 18.6 minutes per game. This season Guy leads the Cavaliers in minutes (30.9), including playing the entire game against Syracuse on Jan. 9 in a 68-61 win at John Paul Jones Arena.

He's scored in double figures 17 times this season after 13 such games as a freshman. Guy also has twice as many steals (26) to this point than during all of 2016-17.

Jerome's scoring average (9.5) is up by more than five points from last season during which he served as protege to then-starting point guard London Perrantes.

The Cavaliers needed every one of Jerome's career-high 31 points, including 6 for 9 from three-point range, to outlast Boston College, 59-58, on Dec. 30 in their ACC opener. Jerome also made two free throws with 53 seconds to play.

His steady ballhandling has been invaluable as well. Virginia is averaging 9.2 turnovers, the fewest in the ACC, and committed five against the Blue Devils for its lowest total this season.

"I think when I got here, my instincts were fine, and I figured out the concepts of everything real quick," said Jerome, who leads Virginia with 31 steals. "But my one-on-one slides needed a lot of work, and of course they still do, but they've definitely gotten better."

Directly attributable to the development of Jerome and Guy, according to Bennett, has been Virginia's three-point bump in overall scoring from last season, even as the Cavaliers continue to lead the country in scoring defense while seeking their third ACC regular season championship since 2014.

With nine games left until the conference tournament, Virginia owns head-to-head tiebreakers over Duke and Clemson, in third and fourth place, respectively, in the ACC, each a game behind the second-place Cardinals in the loss column. The Cavaliers will face Louisville again on the road on March 1.

"They couldn't score last year," Jay Bilas, ESPN's lead men's college basketball analyst, said of the Cavaliers. "Their two guards who are doing so well this year, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, were just freshmen. They didn't have Virginia habits on both ends of the floor. They were kind of learning their way around, so they were looking to avoid making mistakes, and now they're attacking, and doing it Virginia's way."

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