WASHINGTON — Virginia responded when it was pushed. And Anthony Gill thinks that is a good sign.
The fourth-ranked Cavaliers turned away several challenges by No. 11 Miami in a 73-68 victory in the ACC Tournament semifinals on Friday night. Next up is the championship against No. 7 North Carolina, and Gill and company think the test against the Hurricanes will help.
In this ACC tourney only one lower seed won a game. No. 10 Georgia Tech over No. 7 Clemson. Chalk all the way. U.VA and UNC meet in final.— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) March 12, 2016
“I think that we need to be a little bit uncomfortable because if we get too comfortable, we’ll get relaxed,” Gill said. “The way we pulled it out tonight gives us a way to believe in ourselves a little bit more.”
After North Carolina routed defending tournament champion Notre Dame 78-47 in the other semifinal, Virginia (26-6) stepped on the floor at Verizon Center with quite the act to follow. What followed wasn’t the same kind of domination, but followed the Cavaliers’ brand to a T.
Beginning with a 3-pointer from Malcolm Brogdon 48 seconds in, Virginia was in control. The Cavaliers never trailed.
Brogdon scored 24 points. The ACC player of the year was 10 for 11 from the free-throw line.
“I think we’re also starting to peak at the right time,” forward Mike Tobey said. “We’re really playing Virginia basketball now.”
Virginia basketball means defense, defense and more defense. Even though Miami (25-7) shot 54.8 percent, it committed 16 turnovers that turned into 19 points for Virginia.
Senior guard Sheldon McClellan, who scored 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting, called the mistakes “uncharacteristic” of the veteran Hurricanes.
“They kind of took us out of rhythm,” McClellan said.
That was the point. It’s the recipe that has made the Cavaliers one of the best teams in the nation this season and put them line for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia and UNC each could draw a No. 1 seed when the field is announced, making Saturday night’s final the perfect final test in conference play. Virginia beat UNC 79-74 in Charlottesville on Feb. 27.
“Carolina’s one of the best teams in the country,” Virginia guard Marian Shayok said. “Playing great teams every day is going to help prepare us for the tournament. Obviously, there’s a lot of great teams out there in the tournament, but just playing teams in the ACC just does something to us and prepares us in a way like no other.”
Nothing can replicate Virginia being able to face top-15 opponents on back-to-back nights. It’s just a continuation of the entire season after coach Tony Bennett asked players how difficult a schedule they wanted and they told him to bring it on.
“We wanted to have those games so coming down to crunch time, the NCAA Tournament, that we’re ready,” Gill said.
Bennett didn’t ask his team to be perfect and didn’t get a perfect performance. Virginia gave up a lot inside, but Bennett was thrilled with the results.
“I asked them to have a warrior-like mentality heading into this game,” Bennett said. “I love the resiliency, and the warrior-like attitude that I ask from them. They laid it out there and now they get a chance to contend for it tomorrow.”
Miami: Reserve guard Ja’Quan Newton had 19 points. … Ivan Cruz Uceda did not play in the quarterfinal victory because of Virginia Tech’s speed, according to coach Jim Larranaga, who said the big forward would be a “major player” against Virginia. Cruz Uceda scored all eight of his points in the first half.
Virginia: The Cavaliers reached the ACC final for the sixth time in school history. … Virginia is trying to extend the streak of non-North Carolina teams winning the ACC Tournament to five straight years. Notre Dame won in 2015, Virginia in 2014, Miami in 2013 and Florida State in 2012 … The last time Virginia played in a game where each team shot over 50 percent was Dec. 7, 2013, against Green Bay. … Shayok’s father drove down from Ottawa to see his son play in the quarterfinals and semifinals, the first two Virginia games he has seen in person this season.
Miami: NCAA Tournament.
Virginia: Faces seventh-ranked North Carolina for the conference title Saturday.
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