The No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers held off the Pittsburgh Panthers en route to a 51-48 victory in the semifinals of the ACC tournament on March 15 at Greensboro Coliseum to continue their shocking run toward the NCAA tournament.
Joe Harris led the Cavaliers in scoring with 12 points, but it was an overall miserable day for the team in a defensive struggle. Known for their prowess from long distance, the Cavaliers connected on just 25 percent of their three-point tries and lost the battle on the glass, 29-27.
Coming off a poor shooting performance in the quarterfinals against Florida State, the Cavaliers remained confident in their offense and did little to alter their approach against the Panthers. Guard London Perrantes was especially adamant in this stance before the game when he spoke with the media, according to sportswriter Eli Kaberon of The Associated Press, via Yahoo Sports:
We talk about outlasting people all the time. We know that nobody's going to want to guard us 35 seconds every time down the court, so we know that if we keep running our offense, they're going to get frustrated and we're going to get good shots.
While Virginia coach Tony Bennett's approach resulted in a serious drought near the end of the contest, the Cavaliers were able to hold on thanks to a strong defensive showing. The lone exception was the failure to contain Pittsburgh's Talib Zanna, who had a massive first half and was the best player on the court overall.
Regardless, a win is a win and the shocking Cavaliers are one step closer to their goal of winning the ACC tournament, but sophomore Justin Anderson told reporters after the victory that his team has to stay humble, according to the AP, via ESPN:
There's no better feeling, of course, but we'll celebrate later. We're to a point where we have a chance to make a run, not just in the ACC but the NCAA tournament, and we have to ... continue to be humble. This team cherishes that and this team understands that and we'll be fine.
The aforementioned first half was the definition of defensive basketball, as Virginia hardly put together a 26-24 lead. The Cavaliers, seemingly stifled by the Panthers defense, connected on just two three-pointers and had no answer for Zanna down low.
As ESPN's Dick Vitale points out, Zanna was doing most of the heavy lifting for the Panthers in the first half:
Zanna has 12 of Pitt's 21 Playing in ACC like a star!— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) March 15, 2014
That said, Pittsburgh was not any better in the first half offensively from long range, as it too shot a mediocre percentage overall. Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter put it best:
Man, if you want a lesson in team defense in basketball, watch Pitt and Virginia today. And Pitt isn't as good as usual defensively.— Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) March 15, 2014
Things picked up in the second half, but Virginia remained sloppy with the ball in the face of the Pittsburgh defense, as illustrated by Norm Wood of the Daily Press:
That's the eighth turnover for #UVA in first 22 minutes.— Norm Wood (@normwood) March 15, 2014
Turnovers or not, Virginia hit on a 7-of-11 mark from the field in the first 10 minutes of the second half to open up a 45-37 lead, highlighted by a 6-1 run. In a game marred by lead changes and at times sloppy play, it was a significant advantage for the Cavaliers to have.
Virginia predictably proceeded to run a ball-control offense—which backfired.
Pittsburgh rattled off a 5-0 run while the Cavaliers ate the clock. Lamar Patterson and James Robinson hit key layups with less than a minute remaining to make it 49-48, but two clutch hits from the charity stripe by Anthony Gill carried the Cavaliers to the 51-48 finish.
Key Player Grades
Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh: A
It was a titanic effort from Zanna, who had poured in 19 points and grabbed 21 boards in Pittsburgh's 80-75 win over North Carolina the day prior.
While not quite as impressive statistically on Saturday, Zanna carried the team on his back in the first half before cooling off in the second. He still tied for team lead in scoring (15) and led the team in rebounds (nine), so he gets the spotlight as the only member of the Panthers who seemingly showed up to play.
Joe Harris, Virginia: B
As expected, it was another quality outing for Harris, who had scored 12 or more points in his last two games.
Like the rest of his team, Harris struggled from behind the arc with a 2-of-7 mark and was just as inefficient from the field overall, going 5-of-12. That said, he still led the team in scoring with 12 points and managed to emerge consistently as the one who found the bottom of the net when his team needed it most.
Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh: B
Coming off games in which he scored point totals of 30, 24 and 12, expectations were high for Patterson going into the semifinal against the Cavaliers.
Patterson had a quiet day on 6-of-15 shooting from the field for 15 points. He wound up tying Zanna for the team lead in scoring and even notched a late layup to keep things close.
Will the Cavaliers win the ACC tournament?
Virginia advances to the final of the ACC tournament for the first time since 1994 and will get to face the winner of the second semifinal bout between North Carolina State and Duke.
In the meantime, Pittsburgh goes home to await its fate on Selection Sunday. Given the team's performance and overall resume, a No. 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question.