March 14, 2015
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- For the UVa men's basketball team, the goal was to repeat as ACC tournament champion and then return to Charlottesville on Sunday.
Instead, the top-seeded Cavaliers are heading home Saturday morning after losing 71-67 to fifth-seeded North Carolina in the first ACC semifinal Friday night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
At 29-3, with all three losses to ranked opponents (Duke, Louisville and UNC), Virginia still has a sensational résumé. But the Wahoos won't know until the selection show Sunday night if their reward will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"I have no idea," redshirt junior Anthony Gill said Friday night. "Honestly, I don't care what seed we get. I'm going to say it now: Virginia basketball, we're coming at anybody, regardless of what seed we have."
Had the third-ranked `Hoos won Friday night, they know, their case would be stronger. But the 19th-ranked Tar Heels (24-10), whom UVa defeated Feb. 2 in Chapel Hill, dominated the first 30 minutes of the rematch and carved up one of the nation's top defenses from start to finish.
UNC shot 52.4 percent from the floor in the first half, 57.1 in the second and 54.8 overall. Not since Washington (58 percent) on Nov. 22, 2010, had an opponent shot so well against the Cavaliers.
"It kind of unraveled defensively," Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said.
"Congratulations to Carolina for how charged they were and how ready they were. They really took it to us. But defensively, for us to win a game like this, we had to have a much stronger, more sound, solid effort, and we just didn't. So that kind of stings, but we'll grow from it. This [tournament] is one-and-done, and the next one is one-and-done, so you've got to try to get it right."
Eight minutes in, Carolina led 14-4. Virginia was fortunate to be down only seven points at halftime.
"They came out swinging at the beginning of the game," said big man Darion Atkins, UVa's lone senior starter. "That was obvious, and I think we were rattled both defensively and offensively. We let them control the tempo."
With 8:25 to play, UNC went up 51-38 on a runner by freshman forward Justin Jackson, a former UVa recruiting target. The fans in baby blue sounded their approval, and a blowout seemed imminent. But then Malcolm Brogdon took over, and hope was revived for the Cavaliers.
"Malcolm, he carried this team tonight," Gill said. "That's what leaders do. They carry their teams."
A 6-5 redshirt junior who this month was named to the All-ACC first team, Brogdon scored 18 points in the final 8:16, twice cutting UNC's lead to a single points. In last year's ACC championship game against Duke at the Greensboro Coliseum, he scored 23 points, then a career high. He finished with 25 points on Friday night.
"He just willed us, man, and Malcolm has done that time and time again for us this year," UVa swingman Justin Anderson said. "He's so underrated. A lot of people don't realize how great he is, as far as being aggressive on offense. His one-on-one game is great."
In the second half, Gill said, Brogdon "really imposed his will on the game. Without him, we wouldn't even have been anywhere close to beating that team tonight, and I think they didn't have an answer for him, but we also didn't have an answer for anything they were doing."
Asked what led to his offensive outburst, Brogdon said, "Coach Bennett got into me at halftime and got me going."
Bennett said: "I just challenged him. That's kind of locker-room stuff. Let our guys know what I thought was acceptable and what wasn't acceptable. That was it."
After a steal by junior forward Evan Nolte with about 2:25 left, momentum had clearly shifted toward the `Hoos, and they had the ball with an opportunity to take the lead for the first time in the second half.
A pivotal sequence followed. With UVa trailing 61-60, Brogdon drove, and defender met him on his way to the basket. The ball came loose and went out of bounds. No foul was called, though, and the officials awarded possession to UNC, as UVa fans howled in disbelief.
"There was contact, but that's basketball," Brogdon said. "The refs call some, sometimes they don't, so you've got to play through it."
Virginia's next possession ended with a Brogdon basket that cut Carolina's lead to 63-62 with 1:18 left. Again the Heels answered, this time with a floater by junior guard Marcus Paige.
UVa had forced Carolina to take a timeout with only six seconds left on the shot clock. But when play resumed, the ball went to Paige, whose head fake in the lane got Brogdon off his feet. Paige's shot dropped through as the shot clock sounded, making it 65-62.
That, UNC coach Roy Williams said, was "the play of the game, really."
On the Cavaliers' next possession, Anderson missed a 3-point attempt from the left wing. The score was still 65-62 when the `Hoos got the ball back, but Brogdon missed a contested 3-point attempt from the top of the key, and Carolina big man Brice Johnson corralled the rebound.
The Heels went 6 for 6 from the line in the final 15.7 seconds to hold off the `Hoos, whose final points came on a trey by sophomore point guard London Perrantes with 4.6 seconds remaining.
The Cavaliers "showed great heart and fight to claw their way back into it, to have a chance to maybe tie it or extend the game," Bennett said. "So I like that. But what we try to hang our hat on really was porous."
Virginia came in ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 50.1 points per game. But the Heels scored easily on their first possession, setting the tone for a game in which they encountered little resistance when they had the ball.
Jackson came in shooting 26 percent from 3-point range and had never made more than two treys in a college game. He was for 4 for 5 from beyond the arc and 8 for 10 overall Friday night. He finished with 22 points, four more than his previous career high.
"He got some easy wraps where we had some miscommunication breakdowns and got him going," Bennett said, "and some of his shots we had a little too much cushion on him ... A player of that ability, those guys get one or two going, and they feel it, and I thought he obviously showed his talent, and I know he's a great young man too."
For Virginia, Gill and Perrantes complemented Brogdon's tour de force with 12 points apiece, and freshman guard Marial Shayok added seven off the bench.
Anderson, a second-team All-ACC selection, went scoreless for the second straight game, missing all four of his shots from the floor, including two 3-point attempts in the final 1:40.
"I can't sit here and make excuses for myself," Anderson said. "I just gotta keep working out and keep getting everything tight, just like I would do before any of this stuff happened."
Virginia fans know all about the "stuff" to which Anderson was referring. He fractured the small finger on his shooting hand Feb. 7, an injury that required surgery. Then, on the eve of his scheduled return, he needed an appendectomy March 5.
In all, Anderson missed the final eight games of the regular season. He returned to play 12 minutes Thursday against Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals. He played 14 against UNC.
"I'm just so excited to be back out there with my teammates and just fighting," Anderson said. "I just fought. I fought my way through that second half. I wanted that so bad, for my teammates, for my coaches."
At the offensive end, Anderson has yet to resemble the high-flying player who during the regular season averaged 13.4 points and established himself as the team's top 3-point shooter. Still, Bennett said, the 6-6 junior "looked a little better defensively, and we're going to need him. So I thought those were important minutes that he got."
The rust on Anderson's offensive game, Bennett said, is unfortunate, but "it's part of being out for that long. He certainly brought some passion and some heart ... I thought he was a little better tonight that he was yesterday [against FSU]."
Anderson said: "I felt great out there today. I think this week coming up is going to be great offensively for me to start to try to get back in that groove, but defensively and [in terms of] being in the right places and being active and talking and moving, not one time did I think about my stomach or my finger [Friday night]. Not one time did I think about any of that stuff.
"I wanted to win another ACC championship. Now that's out of reach. Now my focus is on the NCAA tournament. I'm not worried about any injuries."
In 2013-14, Virginia received a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Whether history repeats itself Sunday is "not for me to decide," Bennett said. "We've just got to get ready to play better than we did in the first half for sure and work at that."
Gill said: "It's tournament time, and things of this nature happen. Losses happen. We didn't come out the way we should have tonight, and we lost. Moving on, it can't happen like that again, especially if we're trying to achieve the things we're trying to achieve: be the best UVa basketball team we can be. We're going to be hungry, and we're going to be ready for this next opportunity that presents itself."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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