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Perfect Virginia sticks to plan in imperfect win

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The most endearing marks of Virginia basketball come at the expense of others. Look no further than the long face of Jerian Grant on Saturday.

The Notre Dame guard, scoreless early in the second half, was met at the rim by a wall of three Cavaliers players as his fourth shot of the game clanked off the iron and out of bounds, leading to a media timeout. He clapped a hard clap and yelled at himself before retreating to the bench.

Four minutes later, a still-scoreless Grant drew contact on a drive to the rim, the official's whistle offering a moment of relief. Except the call was an off-ball foul on teammate Zach Auguste, with Grant looking up at the scoreboard on the way back down the court, trying to figure out just how things went wrong this time with the ball in his hands.

Two minutes later, and here was Grant again, this time frozen near the top of the key after being called for a travel. He threw down a hard dribble to himself out of exasperation before delivering a soft punch pass back to the official.

"When you can frustrate a guy like that and play good defense against him, you can see it in their face," said Malcolm Brogdon, the man primarily responsible for those moments of frustration. "Stuff is just a little bit tougher tonight for him, and that gives you energy."

As beauty pageants go, No. 3 Virginia's 62-56 win at No. 13 Notre Dame was a tractor pull, a hide-the-children, cover-your-eyes affair that only the purest of hoops faithful could find prettiness in. It was Virginia basketball at its best and Virginia basketball at its worst.

It was, well, Virginia basketball in a nutshell.

It was Grant, the upstart Irish's leading scorer, going 30-plus minutes without a point and finishing 2-of-8 shooting on a night when just a touch more offensively could have delivered the visitors a knockout blow.

It was Brogdon, Virginia's do-everything, fourth-year guard, chasing Grant down left and right, making him work on each possession while calmly pouring in 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

"Nothing more exciting," Hoos coach Tony Bennett said of Brogdon's defense. "I remember playing for my dad, [him] saying, 'You just spread out, get in a stance and make people work.'"

It was, most of all, another win for the Cavaliers, now 15-0 and 3-0 in ACC play. They passed one of their toughest tests, and the league schedule now offers somewhat of a reprieve over the next three weeks.

Not that these guys would be caught looking ahead.

"Oh no," guard Justin Anderson said, when asked if this team talks about goals.

"See, I think that's what makes this team different. We don't talk about individual accolades. We don't talk about the future. We take it one game at a time."

That's a philosophy that should bode well for an outfit that faces four highly winnable games between now and the meat of the conference schedule, which starts with a Jan. 31 showdown against No. 2 Duke.

A 19-0 start is very much in play. Is more on the horizon?

Escaping games like Saturday's sure offers some promise. Virginia's offense withstood several cold spells at Purcell Pavilion, watching an early 10-point lead go to waste thanks to a stretch of seven straight missed shots that led to a 13-0 Notre Dame run.

Whereas Grant was struggling, others, such as Pat Connaughton (21 points) and V.J. Beachem (12), were heating up beyond the arc, keeping a sold-out crowd abuzz as an Irish team riding a nine-game winning streak went up by as many as eight early in the second half.

No matter to the guests, who adjusted on the perimeter defensively and just knew that their errant shots would eventually fall, so long as their defense stopped the bleeding.

If they come up short, their coach always asks, "How will you respond? Will you trust the system?"

"Absolutely," said Anderson, who had 11 points. "Our defense is what stands, as we say. We rely on our defense for sure. We want to make sure we're a defensive-minded team and we set the tempo on defense, so our offense we know will come down the line in the game. But if we just continue to serve ourselves, serve each other on defense, it will continue over on the offensive side."

Sure enough, the immovable object outlasted the unstoppable force down the stretch, with Notre Dame failing to score in the game's final four minutes, save for a meaningless Demetrius Jackson 3 on the final possession.

All this while Virginia shook out of its offensive rut by connecting on seven of its final 10 shots in the last eight minutes.

"It's huge," Brogdon said of the finish. "And the thing about us, our [7-for-10], it didn't come from one person. It came from a variety of people, and that gives confidence to everybody. Anybody can step up and make a big shot at any time. I think it shows the versatility of our team."

It was Brogdon, Anderson and Marial Shayok hitting from downtown. It was 6-foot-8 Darion Atkins using his size in the paint. It was another day without a defeat for Virginia basketball, something this program hasn't tasted since that bitter Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State some 10 months ago.

"Part of it [is] they miss shots, they break down, but it's just, 'Who's going to break down less?'" Bennett said, laughing. "It kind of comes down to that, especially in college."

It's back home for game No. 16 Tuesday against another faceless opponent that had to watch and just scratch its head at what Virginia did to the ACC's third-leading scorer.

"I just found out that we play Clemson next," Anderson said. "I think that's accurate, right? I just found out we play Clemson next.

"And that just shows: It's not about one individual thing. It's not about what's going on in the future. It's just about winning today."