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Pitt to face balanced Virginia in meeting of ACC contenders

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Virginia guard Joe Harris drives past Florida State guard Aaron Thomas during the second half Jan. 18, 2014.

Cavalier ‘D'

Virginia ranks at or near the top of the ACC in several categories this season:

Category ACC rank

Scoring defense 1st

Field-goal defense 2nd

Rebounding margin 2nd

Scoring margin 4th

3-point FG percentage 4th

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, 11:39 p.m.
 

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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