North Carolina had Virginia’s number last season, ending a seven-game losing streak in the series with a pair of double-digit victories.
The 11th-ranked Cavaliers will look to turn the page on Tuesday night when the Tar Heels visit Charlottesville, Va., for an Atlantic Coast Conference contest.
The Tar Heels (11-5, 3-2) have won six of their last seven games and are coming off an 81-64 home win Saturday against Notre Dame. North Carolina is 0-3 in road games, including league losses at Virginia Tech and Pitt.
The Cavaliers (11-3, 3-2) have won three of their last four games, including Saturday’s 73-66 victory at home against Syracuse. Virginia is 7-1 on its own floor, the exception being a Dec. 17 defeat to then-No. 5 Houston.
The victory over the Orange gave Tony Bennett his 327th victory at Virginia, passing Terry Holland as the winningest coach in school history. Including his time at Washington State, Bennett is now four wins shy of 400.
“This is not a ‘me’ award,” said Bennett, who guided Virginia to its first NCAA title in the 2018-19 season. “This is an ‘us’ (award). When I look around and I see that banner … I realize it’s better than I deserve, and that’s a result of these guys.”
Five players scored in double figures for the Cavaliers, who never trailed against Syracuse. Armaan Franklin scored 16 points, Reece Beekman added 13, Isaac McKneely had 12, Kadin Shedrick scored 11 and Jayden Gardner chipped in 10. Kihei Clark delivered 11 assists.
Virginia turned 16 Syracuse turnovers into 23 points and finished with 11 steals and six blocked shots.
“We just wanted to really try to win out with our defense, knowing that the offense could come and go,” Bennett said.
The Virginia offense was mostly absent in last season’s meetings with North Carolina. The Tar Heels followed a 74-58 win in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Jan. 8, 2022, with a dominating 63-43 victory in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 10.
The Cavaliers scored just 13 points in the first half against North Carolina, the fewest in the first half of any ACC tourney game in the shot-clock era. Gardner (17) was the only player in double figures for Virginia, which shot 34.6 percent from the field.
North Carolina wound up losing to Virginia Tech in the ACC semifinals before making a run to the NCAA Tournament national championship game.
Ranked No. 1 to begin this season before falling out of the poll with a four-game slide, the Tar Heels are building momentum.
Saturday’s win against the Fighting Irish marked the fifth time in the last six games that North Carolina has scored at least 80 points. Armando Bacot had 21 points and 13 rebounds for his 58th double-double, two shy of Billy Cunningham’s school record. Caleb Love added 18 points and extended his school record to 44 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer.
The Tar Heels’ reserves outscored the Irish bench 22-12.
“Whoever came off the bench, I just thought they brought energy, they brought life, solid plays on both ends of the floor,” said North Carolina coach Hubert Davis. “And you know, that’s exactly what we need.”
–Field Level Media