The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday February 6th

UVa. Staves Off Late Tar Heel Rally

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Even though the motivations were different, North Carolina and Virginia entered Saturday afternoon's matchup with similar game plans.

Crowd the middle with a 2-3 zone. Don't let them beat us inside. Make them shoot us into making adjustments.

Both teams saw the other had struggled recently against the zone. Both tried to use that to their advantage.

And by the end of the first half, it was obvious which team had the most success.

In the end, UVa.'s ability to play the zone -- and simultaneously shred UNC's version throughout the first half -- won out against a late Tar Heel charge, giving the Cavaliers a 79-72 win before 8,392 at University Hall.

Guard Todd Billet continually shot over the Tar Heels' wing defenders, draining six 3-pointers and scoring 24 points to pace the Cavs (10-3, 1-1 in the ACC).

The guy UNC (9-5, 1-1) wanted to stop inside, bruising UVa. forward Travis Watson, took advantage of the Tar Heels' overcompensation to stop the outside game, dropping 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

"We made a choice to go zone," said UNC coach Matt Doherty. "They struggled against East Tennessee State's zone. They didn't shoot well against N.C. State.

"But they came out and shot well today."

Doherty had reasoned that playing in the 2-3 would help the Tar Heels minimize Watson's ability to score down low and to exploit UNC's interior deficiencies.

But the gamble was an obvious one. If Virginia could get hot from the perimeter, well, the game could be a long one for the Tar Heels.

UVa. did, and for a while, it was. The Cavs buried 8 of 17 first-half 3s and strung together a key 19-4 run to close the half and put North Carolina in a 48-30 hole.

Billet was particularly blazing, burying five treys and scoring 17 points before the break.

"It wasn't so much that I was picking apart their zone," Billet said. "We were really pushing the ball. We got it in transition, and that got us open 3-point shots."

As if struggling to stop a hot-shooting Virginia team wasn't enough, UNC also had difficulty getting good offensive looks against the Cavaliers' zone.

UNC continued its recent 3-point barrage in the first half, firing 18 triples against the UVa. zone. The Tar Heels connected on only four, though, and shot just 35.3 percent from the floor.

At one point in the first half, the Tar Heels attempted and missed five straight 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions.

Much of North Carolina's problems stemmed from its inability to get dribble penetration to the foul line, which would have drawn defenders and given the Tar Heels' the chance to take more open shots.

"We took the shots they wanted us to take instead of taking the shots we wanted," said UNC forward Jawad Williams, who scored 18 points, including 11 first-half points that kept the deficit from getting out of control.

But in the second half, the Tar Heels adjusted on both ends of the floor. And with those changes nearly came a victory.

On the defensive end, they scrapped the zone and went man-to-man. Offensively, they moved forward Rashad McCants inside the zone to try to get him more touches.

Both plans worked. The Tar Heels held the Cavs to 37.5 percent shooting after the intermission and didn't let Watson eat them up inside. He scored eight points and grabbed two rebounds in the second half.

"Maybe we should have gotten out of the zone sooner," Doherty said.

While the defense continued to get stops, the offense started clicking. UNC shot 44.7 percent in the second half and continued to crash the boards (22 offensive rebounds overall).

McCants, who only took four shots before halftime, chipped in 12 second-half points on nine attempts.

But no attempt was more crucial than the 3-pointer McCants hoisted with less than two minutes to go in the game.

UNC had rallied to make it a 75-69 UVa. lead and had a chance to cut it to a one-possession game after McCants drew a charge on Watson.

"They came out re-energized (in the second half), and we had to fight for our life," said UVa. coach Pete Gillen.

After both McCants and Williams had attempts down low altered by the Cavs' big men, McCants snuck outside to the left corner.

When Melvin Scott got him the ball, though, McCants' 3 clanged off the rim.

Virginia grabbed the rebound, hit some free throws and left with its first ACC win.

Despite UNC's early troubles, Doherty said he was impressed by his team's ability to come back, especially on the road in a big conference game.

"It may seem crazy to say it," Doherty said, "but I'm as excited about my group as I've been."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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