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Harris thrives with lessened load

Cavaliers' offensive weapons allow for highly efficient play

Last year senior guard Joe Harris had a breakout season, establishing himself as the Virginia men basketball team’s best scoring option and one of the top scorers in the ACC. That status came with burden of carrying the Cavaliers’ offense — through 19 games last year, Harris had 12 games in which he attempted more than 10 shots.

But the development of sophomore Justin Anderson and the return of redshirt sophomore Malcolm Brogdon has taken some of the load off the senior. This year, Harris has only taken more than 10 shots in a game three times.

“Last year was a little bit tougher, because we were really young, we were looking to Joe every single time,” Anderson said. “I think now everyone’s developed, everyone’s gotten better, we can take some of the pressure off of him, which opens him up for easy drives, easy shots, gets him going early.”

Those easier looks have contributed to Harris’ stellar 49 percent shooting mark from the field, a career best. Harris is taking nearly four fewer field goal attempts and is playing five minutes less per game this year, yet he remains the team’s leading scorer with 11.6 points per game and is only second to freshman point guard London Perrantes in assists per game.

Harris’ willingness to distribute the ball given his own offensive potential has been one of the reasons the Cavaliers have had their best start in conference play since 1995.

“Joe is playing efficient games,” coach Tony Bennett said. “It is rare to have a player of his caliber with his unselfishness, who really doesn’t care if he takes the shots or not. The other guys give us the balance and better chemistry. The guys are more shot-discerning, and they are making plays. To see Joe have four assists and no turnovers, he is unique in that way.”

With Harris playing so efficiently and taking fewer shots, the other perimeter weapons like Brogdon and Anderson have been allowed to develop and assume significant roles in Virginia’s offense, which has been taxing on opposing defenses.

“It puts so much pressure on the other team defensively, they don’t have to know just one or two guys, they have to know everybody and that’s tough to do,” senior forward Akil Mitchell said.

Virginia, known for its stifling defense, has proven in recent games to have a plethora of scoring options. Every player in the Cavaliers’ core rotation has scored in double figures at least once this year.

“Coach talks about it all the time,” Anderson said. “The best thing about this group is that it’s always going to be someone’s night.”