No player on the roster for No. 13 Virginia, not even fifth-year point guard Kihei Clark, has won an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship.
The second-seeded Cavaliers’ quest to cut down the nets for the first time since 2018 begins Thursday night with a quarterfinal clash against seventh-seeded North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C.
Virginia (23-6) won its last two games to salvage a share of the ACC regular season title with Miami. This came after a two-game skid in late February cost Tony Bennett’s squad a chance to win the crown outright.
The Cavaliers followed a 64-57 win over Clemson on Feb. 28 with a 75-60 victory against Louisville on Saturday. Virginia shot 58.0 percent from the field and finished with 25 assists and just seven turnovers against the Cardinals.
“Guys were pinpointing their passes, running good stuff,” Bennett said after his squad defeated Louisville. “When we can share the ball and have that kind of assist-to-turnover ratio, good things are usually gonna happen.”
“I think the last two games were a step in the right direction,” said Bennett, who also guided the Cavaliers to an ACC tourney title in 2014.
Virginia’s only other victory in the conference tournament came in 1976 under former head coach Terry Holland, who passed away last month at age 80.
The Cavaliers have three seniors scoring in double figures with Armaan Franklin (12.6 points per game), Jayden Gardner (11.8) and Clark (11.1). Gardner leads the team in rebounding (5.5) and Clark leads in assists (5.7).
Franklin and Gardner each scored 16 points in the regular-season finale against Louisville.
Virginia split the season series with North Carolina (20-12), which advanced to the quarterfinals with a convincing 85-61 win against Boston College in the second round on Wednesday night.
The Cavaliers beat the Tar Heels 65-58 in Charlottesville on Jan. 10, led by Ben Vander Plas with 17 points and eight rebounds. North Carolina star Armando Bacot (16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game) rolled his ankle in the opening minute and did not return.
The Tar Heels took the rematch 71-63 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 25 behind 22 points from Pete Nance and a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) from R.J. Davis.
Bacot, a first-team All-ACC selection, sustained a left ankle injury in Wednesday’s win against Boston College. He played only 5:33 in the second half against the Eagles, finishing with 10 points. His status for Thursday’s game is undetermined.
Caleb Love led the Tar Heels with 22 points, with Davis adding 18 and Nance chipping in 10 against Boston College. North Carolina shot 54.8 percent, including 41.7 percent (10 of 24) from 3-point range, and committed only seven turnovers.
After their 62-57 loss to rival Duke in Saturday’s regular season finale, Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis expressed confidence heading into Greensboro.
“I feel good about our team,” Davis said. “I told them in the locker room that even though I was very sad, I wasn’t done at all in terms of my confidence in what kind of team this can become.”
North Carolina has won the ACC tournament 18 times, but not since 2016. The Tar Heels lost to the Cavaliers in the 2018 final held in Brooklyn.
–Field Level Media