North Carolina-Virginia Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 24, 2012
North Carolina's current winning streak began with a decisive home victory over Virginia earlier this month. The Tar Heels, however, might find it tougher trying to repeat that feat this time around. Looking for a fifth consecutive victory, the seventh-ranked Tar Heels try for a fourth straight road win over the No. 25 Cavaliers on Saturday in an ACC contest. Stung by a last-second 85-84 home loss to rival Duke three days earlier, North Carolina (24-4, 11-2) rebounded with a 70-52 win over then-No. 19 Virginia on Feb. 11. Tyler Zeller had 25 points and nine rebounds and Harrison Barnes added 14 with 11 boards as the Tar Heels outrebounded the Cavaliers 52-32 and held a 23-9 advantage on second-chance points. "I thought we got - soft's not the right word - but we didn't have the same kind of toughness and focus that was required," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "We have to learn to play in that situation." Virginia (21-6, 8-5) is fourth in the ACC, three games behind co-leaders North Carolina and fifth-ranked Duke. However, playing at home where they are 13-1 could help the Cavaliers avoid a third straight loss overall to the Tar Heels. Then again, North Carolina has won eight of nine in the series, including the last three at Virginia. The Tar Heels overcame a 37.0 percent shooting effort to win 62-56 at Virginia on Jan. 8, 2011. "The best way to not have to worry about the crowd is to play well," coach Roy Williams told North Carolina's official website. The Tar Heels have won their last four overall by an average of 15.3 points. Point guard Kendall Marshall had a career-high 22 points with 13 assists, Barnes scored 20 and John Henson added 14 with 13 rebounds as North Carolina shot 50.9 percent during an 86-74 win at North Carolina State on Tuesday. "I thought everyone was clicking," said Barnes, who has scored at least 20 points in four of five games. "We did a good job of keeping the pace going." North Carolina could have a tougher time doing that Saturday. Virginia ranks second in the nation allowing 48.2 points per game at home, where opponents are shooting 36.7 percent. With 12 points, Zeller was the only Tar Heel in double figures at Virginia last season. Despite a solid defensive effort in that contest, the Cavaliers blew a seven-point halftime lead while being outscored 32-19 in the second half. Virginia has shined defensively while posting consecutive victories over Maryland and at Virginia Tech to bounce back from two straight road losses to North Carolina and Clemson. After holding the Terrapins without a point for a stretch of 8:10 in last Saturday's 71-44 home win, the Cavaliers kept the Hokies scoreless for 8:25 to turn a five-point deficit into a seven-point lead en route to a tough 61-59 victory Tuesday. "Nothing cute or sexy about that one," said star forward Mike Scott, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half. "We had to claw our way out of there." Among the ACC's top scorers at 17.3 points per game, Scott has totaled 45 in the last two contests. Though the senior scored 18 points at North Carolina earlier this month, he's averaged 9.2 in five career games against the Tar Heels.
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