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No. 15 Virginia adds to North Carolina's misery
CHARLOTTESVILE, Va.Keith Jenifer had no reason to feel good about having the ball, and no choice but to try to make a huge play.
The freshman guard made his second chance count Tuesday night, hitting a driving layup as the shot clock ran down and giving No. 15 Virginia the cushion it needed in a 73-63 victory against North Carolina.
"The first time, I picked up my dribble,'' Jenifer said of a play moments earlier when he found himself trapped with the ball as the shot clock raced toward zero. When he finally tried a lunging shot, it was too late, and the 35-second violation gave the Tar Heels possession.
When Kris Lang's baby hook dropped at the other end, the Cavaliers lead was down to 65-63, and Jenifer once again found himself on the spot.
"The biggest play of the game,'' Virginia coach Pete Gillen called the drive around Lang. "I told him that he had the courage to take the shot, even if he missed it, he had the guts to drive to the basket. For a freshman, playing against North Carolina, it was a courageous move.''
And one that saved Virginia from what would have been a more embarrassing collapse than the nine-point lead they blew against No. 3 Maryland in a 91-87 loss at University Hall just 13 days earlier.
Chris Williams and Roger Mason Jr. each scored 18 points to lead Virginia, and Travis Watson added 17 points and 10 rebounds. Williams also had 10 boards, helping the Cavaliers outrebound the Tar Heels 43-29.
"It was ugly,'' said Mason, who finally ended a 20-3 run that gave the Tar Heels their first lead by making a 3-pointer with 8:56 remaining. "But we have a `W' in our column and we're going to run with it.''
Virginia (16-6, 6-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its second straight after a four-game skid that dropped the Cavaliers to their lowest ranking of the season. They also beat the Tar Heels for the third straight time at home, the first time since 1980-82 they've managed to achieve that.
"We've got a lot of work to do,'' Gillen said. "I think our guys thought the game was over, kinda cruised and went through the motions.''
North Carolina (6-16, 2-10) lost its fifth straight and kept alive what could become the worst season in school history. The Tar Heels also lost for the fifth time in the last six meetings with the Cavaliers.
But first, the Tar Heels made things very interesting late.
Virginia led 52-36 after Mason's drive with 14 minutes left, but the Cavaliers scored only once in the next five minutes as North Carolina started clicking, building a 20-3 run with five players contributing.
The last 13 were scored consecutively, and Adam Boone's layup off a steal with 9:23 to go gave the Tar Heels their first lead at 56-55.
But the run proved too much of a good thing for North Carolina, and too soon. Mason immediately followed with a 3-pointer to get the lead back and the Tar Heels didn't score again for more than 5 1/2 minutes, allowing Virginia to open a 63-56 lead that looked like it might be good enough.
"We had a couple of breakdowns,'' Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty said of the poorly timed drought. "We had some plays set that weren't executed properly. Maybe it's mental fatigue, but they were as tired as we were.''
But North Carolina had one more run, getting four points from Jason Capel and three from Lang in a 7-2 run that pulled them to 65-63, setting the stage for Jenifer's driving basket and a clinching dunk by Watson.
Lang led the Tar Heels with 19 points and Capel had 12, although he managed just one field goal in 11 shots. He was 10-for-10 on free throws, helping the Tar Heels outscore Virginia 27-14 from the foul line.
"Our foul shooting kept us in the game,'' Doherty said.
The Cavaliers led 39-27 at halftime, a margin that had to be disappointing after they started like a team primed for a blowout.
Leading 4-3 after 2 minutes, the Cavaliers went on a 15-0 run over the next 2:17, capping the burst when Mason hit three 3-pointers and Watson added a 10-foot jumper ¿ all in a span of 62 seconds.
That made it 19-3 and had the crowd energized, but Virginia went cold, making just 9 of 22 shots the rest of the half as the Tar Heels pulled as close as 27-20 and used a zone defense to slow the Cavaliers' shooting.
"We were up 12, but it was like fool's gold,'' Gillen said. ``It could easily have been two or three, or even. We were very fortunate to be ahead.''