Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cavs Beat UNC in 72-68 Thriller

This is ACC basketball.

Before the game, the UVA pep band played Thriller by Michael Jackson. Now sure the song is dated...and about Halloween...and has no real sports tie ins. Nevertheless, the song perfectly described what turned out to be one amazing matchup. The Tar Heels ranked 25th in the nation were coming off a shocking loss at home to Miami and looked to rebound. The problem was the Virginia intensity and early crowd fervor. UVA showed offense early that it had not had all year. With 8 minutes to go Virginia had a 24-14 lead. The problem for Virginia was much like the past, complacency. UNC stormed back and took the lead into halftime 29-27.

The run did not end there. UNC was able to extend it to 22-3 run, and Virginia appeared on the ropes down 36-27. Once again it was PG Sean Singletary to the rescue. A big three-point by Singletary capped a UVA run to get back in it. A 13-2 run gave Virginia the lead back with 14:30 to play. The Cavaliers weren't done yet, the run continued to 26-10. Virginia led by 9 with 8:29 to go. Just like the first half Virginia could not be complacent. They had to learn from their mistake or lose a heartbreaker.

UNC charged back as everyone expected. Some bad fouls and turnovers by Virginia allowed Reyshawn Terry of the Heels to hit two free throws and make it a 64-61 deficit. Nevertheless, in the crunch Virginia's hero was not Sean or J.R. Reynolds. It was of all the people in the world Lars Mikalauskas. Four of his ten points came late with huge tip ins that kept Virginia in front, and UNC at bay. Say what you want about Virginia, but without Lars they lose this game. Virginia definitely had their stars in line of course. Singletary scored a team high 18 points, a number matched by UNC's freshman sensation Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough refused to give up, fighting through double coverage most of the night to grab key rebounds (10 of them to be exact) and make big shots. Nevertheless, Jason Cain who had two dunks, 5 rebounds in what was still considered an off night made 5 huge blocks down the stretch which meant a Cavalier victory.

In the end it came down to free throws. Virginia's T.J. Bannister was thrust into the spotlight, could he handle it? Bannister missed a free throw with less than two minutes to go but would make his next three. He would finish with 7 points and 3 rebounds. J.R. Reynolds made the last free throw for the ball club, finishing his night with 16 points, 6 rebounds.

For Virginia the win was incredible. Sure UNC had lost a huge amount of their roster, but they were still ranked, they were still a rival, and they were still the defending national champions. UNC embarrassed UVA at home last year, the game that may have been the clincher for Gillen's departure. His successor took care of business and so did his club.

Virginia is now 9-6 on the year (3-2 ACC). UNC falls to 10-4 and has lost two ACC games in a row to drop back to 3-2 as well. UNC basketball coach Roy Williams is an excellent coach, but his young guys will have to shake this off and focus on getting back in their earlier season stride.

Next up for Virginia is Miami. The Hurricanes also beat UNC on the road by 11 and can be a tough match up. After a huge win like this, it would be easy to not bring their full energy to this game. Miami beat UVA last year at U-Hall and could easily do it again with their trio of guards. Miami is 3-1 in the ACC and proving to be a real contender for the NCAA tournament. Virginia must bring it's best EVERY game if they are to be successful. Those close calls against Gonzaga and Georgia Tech proved UVA can hang with the big boys. Now let's keep it up.


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