The Virginia Cavaliers earned a trip to the Sweet 16 on the heels of another dominating defensive performance against the Memphis Tigers, emerging victorious by a score of 78-60 on Sunday night.
Virginia will be the lone representative from the ACC in the Sweet Sixteen. Cavaliers defeat Memphis 78-60. #MarchMadness— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 24, 2014
Early in the first half, Memphis did a great job keeping pace with the Cavaliers, going shot for shot and matching Virginia's defense with a stout stand of its own. This boded well for the Tigers, according to a tweet from Dan Wolken of USA Today:
If Memphis can rebound misses and push like that, Virginia doesn’t have the foot speed to stay with them. They can make hay there.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) March 24, 2014
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead tweeted an anomaly early on that looked to put the game in Memphis' favor:
Craziest stat of the NCAA tournament (or at least the Midwest bracket): Through 55 minutes, Virginia has zero offensive rebounds.— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) March 24, 2014
However, that didn't last long.
The Cavaliers turned it on, going on a huge run and forcing the game to get quickly out of hand.
Virginia played nearly flawless basketball for the remainder of the first half, reestablishing the notion that they are a legitimate No. 1 seed.
The Cavaliers defense held the Tigers to just 26.7 percent shooting from the field over the first half of play. Virginia dominated the boards as well, out-rebounding Memphis 19-10.
This defensive display allowed the Cavaliers to take a 35-20 lead heading into the break.
After the game, Joe Harris explained his team's defensive-minded strategy during a press conference with the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
This is just the way we play. If people are not familiar with watching us, we love to just grind it out. We love the long defensive possessions. We love just making teams work when they're defending us. It's just kind of what Virginia basketball is all about.
Memphis guard Joe Jackson also commented on Virginia's defense:
They've got to be the best defensive team I've ever played against in college. They never lose sight of the basketball, and they just help each other out on every possession. You will never get an easy layup on them.
Pete Themel of Sports Illustrated tweeted the enormous uphill battle that was ahead for the Tigers:
Virginia has been clinical. Memphis has been Memphis. UVA leads 35-20. That's like a 30-point deficit to a normal team.— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 24, 2014
Virginia's first-half dominance made believers out of many. This included ESPN's Andy Katz, according to his Twitter account:
Virginia looking every bit like a one seed. If this keeps up may be time to halt handing Michigan State East title. UVA deserves respect.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) March 24, 2014
The second half brought with it a surge of offense from both teams. Both Virginia and Memphis traded buckets over the first 14 minutes, with the Cavaliers outscoring the Tigers 33-25 after the break.
At that point, Virginia was on cruise control to the Sweet 16. Head coach Tony Bennett began substituting his starters in an effort to rest them up for what should be a very difficult matchup against No. 4 Michigan State.
Bennett deserves plenty of credit for what he has done with this team, and that notion was mentioned in a tweet from ESPN's Andy Katz:
Tony Bennett has quite a track record now of rebuilding. Washington State. Now Virginia. Credit UVA for thinking out of the box. Home run.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) March 24, 2014
Before he was pulled from the game, Virginia forward Mike Tobey excited the arena by connecting on a rare three-pointer with just over three minutes left in the game. That put the Cavaliers up 73-47—it may not have been the game's dagger, but it was certainly an exclamation mark.
Everything was working for Virginia, and this was noted by Philip Sikes of Clemson University in a late-game tweet:
This is possibly the best Virginia has played all year, especially offensively.— Philip Sikes (@PSikes21) March 24, 2014
Even before the game ended, college hoops guru Ken Pomeroy was already looking forward to the Cavaliers' Sweet 16 matchup, according to his Twitter account:
Virginia v. Michigan State should be a doozy.— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 24, 2014
It certainly will.
Three of Virginia's starters and two players off the bench finished with double-digit points on the day. This team is deep, experienced and poised. Its Sweet 16 matchup against Michigan State could be one of the most highly anticipated contests of the tournament.
During a post-game press conference with the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, Bennett explained that he is looking forward to the challenge ahead:
To get to the Sweet 16, that's the rarefied air of college basketball, and you're going to have to play. We know who's waiting, we know how good they are, and it will be us trying to test our game against one of the teams that's playing its best basketball right now.
Be sure to get your popcorn ready.