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Virginia's Tomas Woldetensae is just the latest to break UNC basketball's heart

UNC graduate guard Christian Keeling (55) defends Virginia junior guard Tomas Woldetensae (53) on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 in the Smith Center. UNC lost to Virginia 64-62.

Welcome to the Smith Center villain list, Tomas Woldetensae. Clemson’s Aamir Simms, Boston College’s Jared Hamilton and Duke’s Tre Jones and Wendell Moore Jr. eagerly await your arrival.

The Virginia guard became the latest ACC opponent to make his mark on this absurd North Carolina basketball season with a side-stepping, jaw-dropping, game-winning 3-pointer with less than a second left to lift the Cavaliers over the Tar Heels, 64-62, on Saturday night.

UNC, which led by one after Christian Keeling made three free throws with 10.3 seconds left, dropped its fifth straight game and fifth of the season at home. The total margin of defeat in those last four home losses against the Tigers, the Eagles, the Blue Devils and now the Cavaliers? Eight. Points.

"It's crazy, man," forward Garrison Brooks said. "It happens. It's basketball. But truthfully, it's crazy."

Up until Woldetensae’s last-second heartbreaker (the day after Valentine’s Day, at that), head coach Roy Williams said he was "proud" of UNC’s inspired performance.

Days after a midweek blowout at Wake Forest, North Carolina played with a tangible sense of energy Saturday against the nation’s top scoring defense. There was sloppiness, sure — including 10 turnovers in the first half — but the Tar Heels’ offense found ways to make up for it.

“We played well down the stretch,” Brooks offered.

First-year guard Cole Anthony (2) shoots the ball during a game against UVA in the Smith Center on Saturday Feb. 15, 2020. UNC fell 64-62 against UVA.

Take, for example, the way North Carolina ended that first half. Behind Cole Anthony’s slashing and Keeling’s midrange shooting, UNC went into the break having made six of its last seven shots to force a 28-28 tie. The team shot 13 of 23 (56.5 percent) against the Cavaliers’ vaunted pack-line defense.

The second half was equally tight; Virginia’s largest lead all game was six, and North Carolina’s was three. It was 39-39 with 13 minutes left. Then 47-41 Virginia after Anthony briefly left the court to get a cut on his forehead cleaned.

Then 48-47 UNC. Then 53-48 Virgina. And so on and so forth.

“They've been close, and they’ve been hit by the injury bug in a way a lot of teams haven't,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of UNC. “I thought we made plays down the stretch as they did, too.”

Sophomore guard Leaky Black (1) attempts to block UVA sophomore guard Kihei Clark (0) during a game in the Smith Center on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. UNC fell 64-62 against UVA.

A memorable and wacky final two minutes started when Anthony missed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:11 left. Fellow first-year Armando Bacot was there for the offensive rebound, though, and was fouled.

The 65-percent foul shooter went to line and, in a one-and-one situation, promptly swished both free throws to tie the game at 57. Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite responded with an and-one jump hook (over top UNC defender Brooks) to take a 60-57 lead.

Another barn-burner in the Smith Center. See where this is going?

Anthony split two defenders for a layup. Kihei Clark — an 85 percent shooter — went 1-2 from the foul line. And with 10 seconds left, the Cavaliers committed one of basketball’s cardinal sins: fouling a 3-point shooter.

The perpetrator? None other than Virginia’s Woldetensae, a junior from Italy. (You may remember him from the beginning of this story.)

“At first I thought I lost it for my teammates,” he said, “and then I had a chance to redeem myself.”

Indeed he did. Keeling hit all three free throws, giving UNC an improbable 62-61 lead. Virginia inbounded the ball to Clark, its 5-foot-9 floor general, and took off.

Clark dribbled, drove right, hesitated, went baseline and skipped a pass out to Woldetensae on the left wing. The guard was already scorching at this point. He had 15 points on five made threes. As a result, Williams said, defender Leaky Black “just went flying by.”

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Woldetensae, now open after that successful pump fake, dribbled once, side-stepped rose up and sank it. 64-62. And after a desperation half court heave by Anthony airballed, it was over.

For UNC, it was another mind-boggling defeat in a season so full of them it’s almost “comical,” Platek said. For Woldetensae, though, it was a mistake erased and a memory forever. Just not one North Carolina fans will hold on to.

“It was deflating in the huddle (after the foul), but he had his chance and he answered,” Bennett said. “I said, ‘If you’re going to foul, make a three. That's the way to erase it.’ So, he did that.”


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