No. 10 North Carolina vying for first victory at Virginia since 2012

Feb 17, 2024; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) scores in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina savored its time off ahead of a trip to Virginia on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.

The 10th-ranked Tar Heels (20-6, 12-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) take the court against the Cavaliers (20-7, 11-5) after six full days of rest, their longest break in nearly two months.

“It’s a great time for us to have a week off to catch our breath,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said last weekend after the Tar Heels beat Virginia Tech 96-81 at Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Tar Heels are vying for their first victory at Virginia in 12 years.

Davis said the most vital benefit of the extended time off is the window it gives North Carolina to hold a few practices that focus on improving its own game instead of immediately preparing for Virginia.

“You have to find the joy in how hard it is to be successful individually and as a team,” Davis said. “… It’s a long season, and it’s nice to have this semi-break to be able to rest physically and mentally, but also work on us.”

The rare time off will ideally help the Tar Heels re-establish the consistency that fueled their nine-game winning streak to begin ACC play.

North Carolina has alternated wins and losses throughout its last six games, leaving the Tar Heels tied with Duke atop the conference standings entering the weekend.

Keeping pace with the Blue Devils likely requires North Carolina to end its eight-game losing streak in Charlottesville, where the Tar Heels haven’t won since February 2012.

North Carolina will face a Cavaliers team that is stumbling after winning eight straight games. Virginia has lost two of its last three, including a 75-41 shellacking by the Hokies on Monday in Blacksburg, Va.

Guard Isaac McKneely said the Cavaliers played “pretty soft” on offense and defense, while guard Dante Harris added that the team “didn’t play with a lot of heart.”

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Monday’s beatdown was a significant step back for the Cavaliers, and the lack of fight against an archrival raises significant questions about the team’s resolve ahead of Saturday’s game.

“Everything’s a concern,” Bennett said. “It really is. Who are we? How are we going to respond to this? Now, we have the right kind of character, the right kind of young men, so that’s good, but you have to be honest to say that got away from us. And at this stage, you hoped it wouldn’t.”

Bennett said Virginia didn’t handle the Hokies’ physicality well, which only adds to the concerns for the Cavaliers, considering that the Tar Heels pounded Virginia Tech by way of 54 points in the paint last Saturday.

Preseason All-American forward Armando Bacot (14.6 points, ACC-best 10.3 rebounds per game) will draw plenty of attention near the rim for North Carolina. Virginia also has to deal with Tar Heels guard RJ Davis, whose ACC-leading 21.3 points per game fuels the conference’s top scoring offense (82.8 points per game).

On paper, the Cavaliers are suited to keep North Carolina’s attack at bay.

Virginia’s vaunted defense holds opponents to 58.6 points per game, the lowest mark in the ACC. Anchoring the Cavaliers’ stout unit are 6-foot-8 Ryan Dunn (ACC-best 2.3 blocks per game) and fellow guard Reece Beekman (2.2 steals per game, second in ACC).

Beekman’s 5.8 assists per game are also second in the conference, while his 13.9 scoring average leads Virginia.

The Cavaliers have won seven of their last 10 meetings with the Tar Heels.

–Field Level Media

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