20 Long Years: UVa. in first ACC Tournament final since 1994
“The Sign” by Ace of Base topped the Billboard Hot 100. “Seinfeld” was “Must-See TV,” and not yet on every channel in the universe on rerun. The year was 1994. The last time UVa. basketball was in an ACC Tournament final.
You have to go back another 18 years, to 1976, the Bicentennial, to mark the Virginia program’s only ACC Tournament championship. The 2014 Cavs (27-6, 18-2 ACC) have a chance to rewrite history Sunday against perennial ACC power Duke (26-7, 15-5 ACC).
“Well, it’s certainly a great opportunity, you know, to advance into the championship game and, you know, this is what it’s about,” said UVa. coach Tony Bennett, who has revived the once-proud Virginia program in his five years in Charlottesville, taking the ‘Hoos to the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and winning the ACC regular-season title this year, the school’s first regular-season title since 1981.
“We’re fortunate to win an ACC regular season championship. I don’t know if we call it that in this league, but we won that and this is a huge opportunity. Such a prestigious event. To play for that, again, preparation for the NCAA Tournament, all those things are huge. It’s been a while. There’s only one, right? You can ask our writers that we’ve won, and I get reminded of that quite a bit. So it’s a chance to add a second one to it,” Bennett said.
The coach said he got a text from Wally Walker, the star of the 1976 ACC champions and later an NBA player and executive, before the ACC Tournament semifinals on Saturday. The simple message: “We want some company.”
“Yeah, it’s been a while, so it’s good we’re having this conversation right now. Obviously, what they did was special. Because of how special the ACC Tournament is. But it would be great to obviously put another banner or have that to share with them,” Bennett said.
Bennett sat at the dais at the postgame presser with two seniors, Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, who were the foundation of the Bennett revival of UVa. basketball. Harris talked about the recruiting pitch from Bennett that made him want to be part of what the coach wanted to do in Charlottesville.
“He said, We might have to learn to lose together before we win together. It won’t be easy but we’ll go through tough times,” Harris said. “He believed in us and believed we could have an opportunity to change this thing around. That’s the reason why Akil and I and our class decided we wanted to come here.
“We experienced some bumps along the way,” Harris said. “Over time we gradually have just gotten used to what Coach wants out of us, his philosophy, mindset. It’s been ingrained in us.”