Virginia Shows Resolve in Rallying to Beat North Carolina

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on February 12th, 2019

It is difficult to dream up a more daunting back-to-back scenario than playing host to #2 Duke on Saturday followed by visiting the #8 team on its home floor 48 hours later. And after the disappointment of losing the front end in a season sweep to the Blue Devils, Virginia faced a must-win situation at North Carolina on Monday night if it had any designs on repeating as the ACC regular season champion.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch in Chapel Hill Last Night (USA Today Images)

In staking itself a seven-point halftime lead, the Cavaliers controlled pace while managing to keep the Tar Heels from getting anything going in transition. The second half was a different story, however, as North Carolina dictated tempo early and opened up a seven-point advantage of its own with fewer than eight minutes remaining. Tony Bennett‘s team could have easily collapsed under the weight of the physical and mental pressure at that point, but that’s not what happened.

Instead, junior guard Kyle Guy nailed three three-pointers, including two inside the final two minutes, and Virginia closed the game on a 21-6 run to win by eight points. Guy, who had come into the game struggling with his shot, made 5-of-9 from distance on Monday, sharing game-high honors in points (20) with teammate De’Andre Hunter. Hunter, for his part, was fabulous on both ends, making 7-of-10 shots from the floor while playing a part in tormenting Luke Maye into an awful four-point effort, and then putting his versatility on display in forcing point guard Coby White into some critical mistakes during the last four minutes. Ty Jerome, despite still being slowed by a sore lower back, had another brilliant floor game, scoring 15 points and dishing out 11 assists. The dynamic nature of this trio on the offensive end is what appears to be the difference between this Virginia team and the ones who have fallen short in the NCAA Tournament.

Given Virginia’s returning roster, the only question of consequence regarding this year’s team was whether it could emotionally overcome the disappointment of last March’s meltdown. Last night’s performance — down seven points in the second half against a legitimate top-10 team on its home floor — is when Virginia could have had succumbed to the basketball version of post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, it proved that this roster is as mentally tough as it is efficient, a combination that should result in its inclusion among a handful of favorites to cut down the nets in Minneapolis this April.

This is not to ignore that there are some warts with the Cavaliers’ recent on-court performance. First, they have been kicking it around in an uncharacteristic fashion, turning it over more than 10 times in each of the last four games. What’s going on there? Next, 55 of the team’s 69 points against the Tar Heels came from Hunter, Guy and Jerome. Duke made a point to limit Hunter’s opportunities on Saturday — as a result, he took only nine field goal attempts. Elite teams with athletes are going to remove one of the three from the offense in order to challenge someone else to beat them — is there a viable fourth offensive option on this roster? These questions will certainly be worked through over the next month, but the most pertinent question was answered in Chapel Hill. Have they gotten over IT? The Cavaliers answered affirmatively.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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