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Pitt to face balanced Virginia in meeting of ACC contenders

| Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, 11:39 p.m.
Virginia guard Joe Harris drives past Florida State guard Aaron Thomas during the second half Jan. 18, 2014.

Virginia doesn't have an individual scorer or rebounder ranked among the top 10 players in the ACC, and has one player rated No. 10 in the league in assists.

The Cavaliers (16-5, 7-1), however, are second in the ACC, one game ahead of third-place No. 18 Pitt (18-3, 6-2) and Nov. 17 Duke, entering Sunday's 12:30 p.m. contest against the Panthers at Petersen Events Center.

Balance is better at Virginia, where only two players average double digits, but six players average at least 6.6 points this season.

“Teams that are more balanced, that have some depth, when they're playing well, are hard to beat,” fifth-year Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You can't focus on one guy. This year, we have more balance, and that has shown when we've played our better basketball.”

Bennett credits seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell — members of the 2010-11 team which finished 16-15 — for establishing a standard their teammates can follow.

Harris, in particular, leads by example. A first-team All-ACC performer who averaged 16.3 points last season, the 6-foot-6 guard averages nearly 5.0 fewer points in his final college season.

“Here's a guy who's taking less shots, but he's drawing more attention for the other guys to step up,” Bennett said. “Joe Harris was runner-up for player of the year in the ACC. Not many guys of his caliber will do that, can do that, and are willing to do that.”

More than anything, Harris wants to win. He's sacrificing his individual offense for the team.

“Our goal is to make it to the postseason, to improve off what we built last year,” Harris said.

The Cavaliers have won more than 20 games in each of the last two seasons. They are 7-1 since an 87-52 loss Dec. 30 at Tennessee.

“Guys are buying into their roles,” said Mitchell, who leads the team in rebounding, but is only sixth in scoring. “It's a team mentality.”

Freshman London Perrantes leads Virginia in assists, but he isn't the only playmaker on the team. Harris is second in assists, and sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavaliers' leading scorer, also displays his passing skills in the balanced attack.

“We have a number of guys that can contribute and score in different ways,” Harris said. “Our goal is to make it to the postseason, to improve off what we built last year. So far, it's improved every year (Mitchell) and I have been in this program. We have a chance to be a special team.”

Not to mention an unselfish one.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib

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