Cavs Test Strong ACC Start vs. UNC

By: Nate Sulham Email
By: Nate Sulham Email

The last time Virginia started the season 4-1 in the ACC, the Cavaliers ended the season in elite fashion.

The year was 1995, and Jeff Jones led his Cavaliers to an Elite Eight appearance, where the Wahoos fell to eventual National Runner-Up Arkansas 68-61 in the Midwest Regional Final.

Fast forward nearly two decades and the Cavs are once again off to a hot start in conference play under Tony Bennett.

Saturday's 78-66 win over Florida State pushed the Hoos to 4-1 in the ACC, good for second in the conference.

The Hoos can make it 5-1 with a win over North Carolina Monday at John Paul Jones Arena in the second game of a three-game homestand.

Bennett says his team's recent surge began after some soul searching following a 35-point loss at Tennessee in late December.

"After the Tennessee game we didn't say to ourselves, 'Well now we've got to go to Florida State and get a win, and then we've got to come home and get a win against Wake Forest, we've got to go to NC State.' It was about play the right way for us," Bennett explained.

"I keep going back to it, but the Tennessee loss was big and I think it really helped our team turn around and really start to produce like we can do," sophomore center Mike Tobey added.

Virginia is 4-1 since that final game of the non-conference schedule, its only blemish coming in a last-second loss at No. 23 Duke.

UVa blasted FSU on the road in the Cavs' ACC opener, then dominated Wake at home. The Hoos then went on the road at controlled N.C. State as well.

The players say getting off to the strong start is vital for their confidence moving ahead.

"I think when you're playing in arguably the toughest conference in the country, everybody is capable every night," sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "You want to try to get your wins early, you want to start off really well, try to get some momentum going so you can keep winning games."

"Every single game from here on out is very tough," senior guard Joe Harris added. "Going forward, we're fortunate to have a couple more home games but going on the road, especially in conference play is always very difficult, so when we're able to get a couple wins on the road and get a win against quality teams at home, you definitely want to take advantage of it."

If the Cavs want to stay at the top of the conference, they'll need to beat a North Carolina team that has been unpredictable this season.

The Tar Heels have quality non-conference wins against Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky, but have also lost to Belmont, UAB and Wake Forest.

"They're talented," Bennett said. "You watch them play against Louisville, Kentucky -- the quality wins they have. That's a storied program and they have very gifted players. I know they got off to a slow start but they've shown great basketball in tough settings at different times this year and you've got to be ready for that."

UNC picked up its first ACC win Saturday against Boston College, but Bennett knows better than to discredit Roy Williams' team.

"When your back is against the wall, as we saw with Duke, teams come out and respond and it will be our job to be ready as we can."

"I know they're going to be hungry," Tobey added. "They didn't start off well so they're going to come out on fire and we have to match that."


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