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Pitt hopes to make point against Virginia's top-ranked scoring defense

| Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, 9:03 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Michael Young takes the last shot in regulation against Notre Dame Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016 at Petersen Events Center.

If Pitt can't find holes in Virginia's defense Wednesday night when the teams meet at Petersen Events Center, no one will be surprised.

Even if you consider Pitt is averaging 81.9 points and last month totaled 206 in consecutive games, fourth in program history.

Pitt coach Kevin Stallings said Virginia coach Tony Bennett leaves nothing to chance when installing a defensive game plan.

“I marvel at their ability to take away the 3-point line while also taking away penetration,” Stallings said. “And they double team the post. They don't let you get it out of the post easily.”

Such strategy covers the opponent's long-range shooting, drives through the lane and passes to and from the post position. Is it any wonder No. 11 Virginia (11-2) leads the nation in scoring defense (48.6 points per game) and is second in field-goal defense (35.2 percent)?

Pitt sophomore Cam Johnson isn't wondering. He knows what makes the Cavaliers difficult to beat.

“They don't have any defensive lapses, really ever,” Johnson said. “They really control the tempo of the game. They really like to enforce their style of play and make you uncomfortable.”

Johnson said video study scheduled for later in the day Tuesday would help.

“We'll find things we think we can exploit,” he said.

Pitt's edge might be its free-flowing offensive style and shot-making ability that have been the most apparent traits of Stallings' team in his first season.

Forward Michael Young came into the season with 19 successful 3-point shots in three seasons, including just four last year.

This season, he already has converted 20 long-range attempts and leads the team in 3-point percentage (45.5).

“He's always been a capable 3-point shooter,” Johnson said. “Just now in this offense, he has more opportunities to let it go.”

Johnson was asked if the team is having fun learning Stallings' scheme, which is dramatically different than what former coach Jamie Dixon preached.

“It will be more fun the better we get with it,” Johnson said, “because there is still tons of room for improvement.

“The more we learn to work together, the more points that are scored, the more fun it will be for everybody.”

In an overtime loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, Pitt shot nearly 10 percent below its field-goal percentage for the season (37.5 percent to 47.3) but still scored 77 points.

Similar production against Virginia likely would result in Pitt's and Stallings' first ACC victory.

Florida State defeated Virginia, 60-58, on Saturday, scoring the third-most points against the Cavaliers this season. Only Ohio State (61) and West Virginia (66) have scored more.

“Florida State was able to hit some shots,” Stalling said, pointing to Dwayne Bacon's 29 points. “But those shots are not easy shots. He just made terrific offensive plays.”

Stallings said Bennett's defensive style is so pervasive he likely goes to extremes in recruiting.

“I'm guessing that Tony probably has been willing to pass up on a more talented offensive player to recruit a guy he knew would be able to play on the defensive end the way he needed him to,” Stallings said.

“They want to get you into their grinder, to grind you into their style of play and they're good at it.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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