Tar Heels upset Virginia, will compete for ACC title
By: Kevin Wheeler
Coming into Virginia’s semifinal game against North Carolina, the Cavaliers had allowed only one of their opponents to shoot 50% or better from the field this season. The Tar Heels changed that on Friday.
Fifth-seeded North Carolina converted 54% of their field goal attempts, the highest Virginia had allowed all year, on its way to a 71-67 victory over the top-seeded ‘Hoos to advance to Saturday’s ACC Championship game.
The Tar Heels didn’t waste any time getting started once the game tipped off. They jumped out to gain an 11-point advantage in the first half, and took a seven-point lead into the locker room at the break. Virginia’s defense struggled to keep up with North Carolina’s frequent off-the-ball movement early on. But in North Carolina head coach Roy Williams’s eyes, his team’s defense was the real story.
“I think it was one of the best games we’ve played defensively,” Williams said. “I thought we were much more active. We were more aggressive. We were pressuring. In a half court situation, that could be the most aggressive, most active defense we’ve had all year long.”
Cavaliers’ head coach and ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett hadn’t seen such a poor defensive performance from his squad prior to Friday, and it came at the worst time.
“Defensively, for us to win a game like this, we had to have a much stronger, more sound, solid effort,” he said. “And we just didn’t.”
“I was so disappointed because that wasn’t who we were to start,” he said. “Carolina came after us … we were on our heels, [and] their pressure really bothered us. So I don’t know if we were tight or scared or nonchalant. I don’t know.”
In the second half, the teams played a see-saw type of game, trading baskets back and forth while Virginia tried to claw their way back from as many as 13 by the eight-minute mark.
First team All-ACC guard Malcolm Brogdon did his best to bring the Cavaliers back, scoring 22 of his 25 total points in the final 20 minutes of play. But Virginia needed more production out of their banged-up star guard Justin Anderson, who went scoreless for the second straight contest.
Anderson went 0-4 from the field against North Carolina in just 14 minutes of playing time, including a crucial missed three-point attempt with 30 seconds to play that would’ve tied the score at 65, and could only muster two rebounds and an electrifying blocked shot to his stat line before game’s end.
“It’s rust, it’s time,” Bennett said of Anderson’s progress since his return from injury. “He looked a little better defensively, and we’re going to need him. I wish he could’ve gotten a bucket or two to go in, but it’s part of being out for so long.”
North Carolina rode the coat tails of freshman swingman Justin Jackson, who scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half and shot 4-5 from beyond the three-point arc. Virginia probably didn’t pay much attention to Jackson’s shooting abilities in their pre-game preparation due to Jackson’s less-than-impressive 26% three-point field goal conversion rate.
Despite the low percentage, Jackson’s said his confidence never wavered.
“I always knew I was a shooter,” he said. “Obviously, the numbers didn’t show it. But for me, I knew it would come around sooner or later … I’m just glad I was able to contribute to this game and be able to move on tomorrow.”
Virginia forward Anthony Gill ran into multiple situations where he had to guard Jackson for a possession.
“We knew he was a talented player coming into the game,” Gill said. “He’s very versatile. So I think just getting at him, trying to be physical with him probably [would’ve been] the key. But he took advantage of some times where we had lapses tonight.”
Virginia will head home empty handed for now after taking the ACC Tournament title one year ago, but will need to get Justin Anderson healthy before the NCAA Tournament and wait for their seeding that will be determined on Sunday.
Bennett refused to feed into speculation concerning his team’s seeding for the big dance.
“That’s not for me to decide,” he said. “We’ve just got to be ready to play better thn we did in the first half [today] and work on that … The parity in college basketball is there, so whatever will be will be with that, as they say.”
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige and his Tar Heels will play their fourth game in as many days when they take the floor in Saturday’s ACC Championship game, but he dismissed any thought that fatigue will play a factor in it.
“At this point, everybody’s tired,” Paige said. “You have to mentally not think about it and just tough it out … we’re going to be hungry. At that point once they throw the ball up, you can’t worry about being tired. There is no time for that, especially for what’s on the line: a championship.”
North Carolina will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 8:30 PM in Saturday’s ACC Championship.