Slow way: UVA beats North Carolina at its up-tempo game

uva-basketball newThird-ranked UVA did to a good, not great, but good, UNC team in Chapel Hill what it’s done all season long, making those final five minutes at home Saturday night look ever more like the aberration.

Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) overcame a sluggish defensive start that saw North Carolina hit seven of its first nine from the field to win, 75-64, in the Dean Dome, giving the program its first win over a ranked Carolina team in Chapel Hill since 1981, and just the seventh UVA win in the city limits all-time.

This one is now the signature win for this team, which is saying a lot, considering the schedule to date. Wins in December on the road at Maryland and at VCU, a win at Miami to open ACC play, a win at Notre Dame, which is 6-1 in its last seven at home against Top 10 teams.

This one was more reminiscent of the wins at Maryland and VCU, two teams that push pace (VCU averages 68.9 possessions per game; Maryland 65.2), the kinds of teams that are supposed to give glacially slow Virginia (58.3 possessions per game) trouble.

North Carolina (17-5, 7-3 ACC) pushes tempo even more than VCU and Maryland, averaging a pinball-fast 70.3 possessions per game, and this one was played for the most part at Carolina’s desired tempo (68 possessions).

Inside the numbers, it was actually at 29 possessions at the half, meaning the second half was a track meet even by UNC tempo standards.

How that played out would surprise you if you didn’t know that Virginia might prefer the slower tempo, but surely isn’t ill-equipped to run and gun when the need is there. UVA averaged 1.103 points per possession in that up-and-down second half, shooting 50 percent from the field (15-of-30) and holding UNC to 11-of-29 shooting (37.9 percent) and 0.886 points per possession, and those numbers were a bit inflated for the Heels getting 12 points in the last 2:23 in garbage time.

This one had seemed set up to be a Carolina upset, if you could rightly call UNC, which came in 7-2 in the ACC and on the verge of taking over first place in the conference with the win, getting the W at home against a Virginia program that so rarely wins in Chapel Hill an upset. The loss at home to Duke after an emotional day on Saturday with ESPN College GameDay and a pumped sellout crowd in JPJ was supposed to be as deflating as a New England Patriots ballboy, with a less-than-48-hour turnaround only adding to the inevitability.

Then North Carolina comes out attacking the big-to-big post doubles with ease, getting five layups in that 7-for-9 start from the field, making it look like an instructional video on how to beat the Pack-Line in the process.

The deck was stacked; Virginia just kept winning hands anyway.

– Column by Chris Graham

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