Senior Leadership Pushes 'Hoos to ACC Top Seed

The Virginia men's basketball team has spent the past few months matching or surpassing some of the best ACC accomplishments in program history.

But just before the calendar turned to 2014, the Cavaliers weren't in such a good place.

UVa ended its non-conference schedule with an 87-52 loss at Tennessee -- the team's worst performance in more than three years.

"You know, it was humbling," senior guard Joe Harris recalled this week. "I think it showed that something really needed to change. There needed to be more leadership, especially from Akil and I."

The Cavaliers fell to 9-4 with that Tennessee loss. They'll take the floor in Friday's ACC Quarterfinals at 25-6, and as the top seed in the conference tournament. And Tony Bennett credits the leadership of Harris and fellow senior Akil Mitchell for sparking his team's turnaround.

"After that game, I think they said, "Whatever it takes. However. We're going to try to get this done, and become a better team,"" Bennett said.

"I feel like they just didn't want to go out that way, as seniors," said freshman guard London Perrantes. "They're not too big of vocal leaders. But they don't need it. They go out and they work hard every day, whether it's in the weight room, or it's on the court."

"He's not a selfish guy at all. I don't think of myself as very selfish," said senior forward Akil Mitchell. "So it was like nothing to help my brothers out. To try to lead these guys to success. And that's what we've found so far."

Five days after the Tennessee loss, the Cavaliers opened conference play in Tallahassee against Florida State -- the same team UVa will meet Friday in the ACC Quarterfinals. UVa won that game, its first of three in a row to open ACC play.

UVa only lost twice in the conference during the regular season -- a 69-65 loss at Duke on January 13, and last Sunday's 75-69 overtime loss at Maryland in the Cavaliers' regular season finale. In between those losses, the team set a new school record with 13 consecutive league wins.

UVa's 16 ACC wins this season are the most in program history, and they clinched just the second outright regular season title with a 75-56 win against Syracuse on March 1 at John Paul Jones Arena.

"For it not to go as how you would have liked it to, up until that point. And then for you to overcome some adversity, change some things around, and be in the position that we're in right now, it's very rewarding," said Harris.

"We all talk about winning. But it's special to be able to actually do it," said Mitchell. "And that's all I look forward to."


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