DURHAM, N.C. -- The easiest analogy for what it's like to face the Duke defense is to imagine a swarm of very aggressive gnats attacking you.
At first, there's only one gnat, and he's tough enough to handle, but just when you've gotten rid of him, and sometimes even when you're still dealing with the first gnat, another gnat comes along to bewitch and bewilder.
Eleventh-ranked Virginia got firsthand evidence at how pesky and determined the Blue Devils can be when they don't have the ball, dropping an 86-74 decision to sixth-ranked Duke here last night.
The Cavaliers (17-5, 5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) were harassed into 16 turnovers and a 42 percent floor shooting percentage as the Blue Devils (19-4, 7-2) swarmed and shut them down from the outside.
"They did a great job on us," said Virginia forward Bryant Stith, who had 16 points, four below his average. "They found us out higher in the halfcourt set and it took us a while to get in our sets."
"It's the fact that they're so aggressive and they're reaching and grabbing all the time," said senior guard John Crotty, who had 13 points and six assists along with four turnovers.
"They do that so much that the refs can't call it all the time. They have a great reputation. They don't let you get a foot without making you work for it."
The Blue Devils, who stayed atop the ACC standings, are holding opponents to 44 percent shooting from the floor this season, and the fiercest "in-your-face" defense this side of Georgetown is a major factor.
"We hope that it disturbs them and distracts them. That's what we want to do," said Duke center Christian Laettner, who had 22 points, 16 in the second half, as Duke retained the 37-28 margin it took into intermission.
Duke got more than a little offense, too. It shot 50 percent from the floor, including 62 percent in the second half.
Freshman Grant Hill, the son of Orioles vice president Calvin Hill, turned in a fine performance, with his father watching.
He scored 16 points with pretty inside moves, and helped point guard Bobby Hurley by running the offense at times while Hurley harassed Crotty.
"Grant played extremely well," said Krzyzewski. "He had a lot of responsibilities. He covered Bryant for a number of minutes and he handled the ball a lot because we wanted Bobby to put pressure on Crotty."
The game plan for Duke, which had been blitzed by Virginia 81-64 a month ago, was to deny Crotty the ball after he crossed midcourt.
"We wanted to make it a little tougher to run their halfcourt offense," said Krzyzewski. "They're such a veteran team that we wanted to disrupt them."
The plan worked, and as a side benefit, the Blue Devils kept the Cavaliers from hitting from the outside. Virginia's perimeter game consisted of a Stith three-pointer with six minutes left in the first half and five jumpers from senior forward Kenny Turner, who finished with a career-high 28 points.