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Tough defenses face off

Inconsistent team hopes to put together complete game against Fla. State

When the Virginia men's basketball team plays Florida State this Saturday, two struggling offenses will meet two stingy defenses.

The Seminoles boast the third-best scoring defense in the ACC, allowing 61.8 points per game, while the Cavaliers rank fourth in that category with 63.3 points. Florida State also owns the league's second-lowest field-goal percentage at .428. Virginia, meanwhile, barely bests that mark with a .429 percentage, and scores a conference-worst 63 points per game.

The biggest difference between Florida State and Virginia lies in the ACC standings. Despite similarities on paper, the Seminoles (16-7, 6-3 ACC) rank third in the conference, while the Cavaliers (12-11, 3-6 ACC) are tied for eighth. Florida State has managed to finish games - a feat Virginia has failed to accomplish recently.

The Cavaliers have coughed up late second-half leads in five of their last six losses, most recently in a 70-68 overtime defeat against Miami. Senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan tallied more than 20 points for the second straight night, while freshman guard Joe Harris dropped 18 points on the Hurricanes. Virginia wasted those efforts, however, as the squad relinquished a five-point lead with 37 seconds to play and went just 9-for-22 from the free-throw line.

"We played solid basketball, labored down the stretch to make some free throws, and that really cost us the game," coach Tony Bennett said. "We had three times where I thought the game was almost put away ... and we just couldn't capitalize at the line."

The loss followed a win against Clemson, adding another chapter to a season riddled with inconsistency. Against Clemson, Virginia survived a near collapse to win 49-47 thanks to a well-executed pack-line defense. In contrast, the Cavaliers' perimeter pressure disappeared down the stretch against the Hurricanes, as Virginia allowed a three-pointer and fouled two three-point attempts during the game's final minute.

"In the last game some big shots were hit, deep shots with the range," Bennett said. "But I think it's that ability to really anticipate and be able to get the shooters on the catch and bother their shots."\nFlorida State has shown flashes of brilliance this year, but also has been periodically unreliable. The team sent shockwaves through the college basketball world in January, upsetting then-No. 1 Duke. Coach Leonard Hamilton admitted, however, that his team has been inconsistent.

"People make a big deal of [that win] because we played so poorly in two games that we lost [prior to the Duke game], and we played exceptionally well in that game," Hamilton said in a teleconference Monday.

Those two losses included one against Auburn, a team that has fallen to programs such as UNC Asheville, Jacksonville and Presbyterian College. During its most recent outing, Florida State lost by 20 points to North Carolina.

"We kind of ran into a bus in Chapel Hill," Hamilton said. "We were not doing a very good job of containing the dribble, and I thought they executed their offense. They were very aggressive in their attack against our defensive schemes."

The Tar Heels smoked the typically tough Seminole defense for 89 points, and Hamilton acknowledged that North Carolina left his team "in flux." Florida State has the opportunity, however, to recapture its defensive edge as the Seminoles play Georgia Tech tonight before welcoming the Cavaliers Saturday.

Virginia, on the other hand, is forced to stew about its Miami loss until Saturday's contest. The extra break, however, will give Virginia more time to ready its defense for Florida State's Chris Singleton. The junior forward leads the team with 13.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game.

Perhaps more importantly, the layoff between games also gives the team time to address the fundamental problems that plagued them at Miami.

"You don't have time for everything right now, [so] you let some basic things slide, but you can really isolate those things for a day or two," Bennett said. "We played well enough to get a victory, but did not come out with it against Miami. Now we go to work, and we get ready for Florida State on Saturday"