WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a game that was about as much as one could ask for from an ACC title game, North Carolina used a late defensive clampdown and some big-time play from its guards to top Virginia, 61-57, at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Here are five things you need to know.
1) Playing to a tie in the first
In a packed arena split almost evenly between North Carolina and Virginia fans, the two teams brought the energy to match. Tied at the break, we almost got a refresh at the half.
2) Carolina figures out a fix
North Carolina’s biggest weakness all season has been shooting the three. Against a team like Virginia, that would seem like a fatal flaw because of how well the Cavaliers pack their defense into the paint.
They continued to struggle shooting the three overall (3-of-12), but Joel Berry was a perfect 3-of-3 on a night that the guards made the difference. He had 19 points. Marcus Paige had 13 points. Their ability to start the transition game and get to the rim helped to crack the Virginia defensive code.
3) Ice cold stretch
After an Anthony Gill layup with 9:51 to go that gave Virginia a four-point lead, it took four minutes for the Cavaliers to score another point. They took over four minutes before two Gill free throws put them on the board.
That dry spell allowed North Carolina to go on a 15-2 run and the Tar Heels seized control.
4) Virginia comeback denied
The Cavaliers tried to make a push. Down by nine points with 1:45 to go, threes by Malcolm Brogdon and Evan Nolte cut the deficit to three with under a minute to play. But North Carolina went back to pounding the ball inside and Isaiah Hicks converted on a tough shot in the lane as the shot clock was winding down to push the game back to five.
That is one of the issues with a pace-strict team like Virginia. When the deficit pushes toward double digits, the Cavaliers are not built to mount a swift comeback. An Anthony Gill three with less than a second to play cut it to three, but it was not enough.
5) Tough in tourney time
Virginia intentionally limits the possessions in a given game. With how impressive their defense is, this acts like another constraint that makes teams uncomfortable and helps the Cavaliers to make the opponent uncomfortable.
The result is an impressive record over the course of a 32-game regular season, but they can run into trouble in a single-elimination tournament setting. Less possessions sometimes means that the sample size isn’t always big enough to get a true reading on who the better team is.
That might not have been the case Saturday night. Carolina is elite and is a No. 1 seed. But as the NCAA tournament is now upon us, can Virginia win six straight games and survive perhaps an outlier of a shooting night from an uncharacteristically hot team? That will be the question.