GAME NOTES: The top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers continue their quest for a championship sweep as they take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament on Saturday afternoon at Greensboro Coliseum.
The winner of this game will take on either Duke or NC State for the tournament title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
Virginia has been the epitome of consistency this season, winning 16-of-18 total ACC outings to capture the regular-season title. It marked the Cavaliers' second outright crown and first since 1981. With one of the top four seeds in this event, Tony Bennett's squad earned a double-bye into Friday's quarterfinal round. The Cavaliers posted a double-digit win over Florida State in their first tournament action to advance, 64-51.
Jamie Dixon's Panthers are in their first ACC Tournament, and like the regular season, seem perfectly comfortable in their new surroundings. Pittsburgh earned a five-seed and started its tournament run in the second round with an 84-55 rout of Wake Forest. The Panthers took out four-seed North Carolina in Friday's quarterfinals, 80-75 to move within one win of playing for the tournament title.
The Cavaliers own an 8-3 lead in the all-time series with the Panthers and won a defensive-battle that went down to the wire on Feb. 2 in Pittsburgh, 45-43.
Talib Zanna was the enforcer for Pittsburgh against North Carolina, scoring 19 points and grabbing an eye-popping 21 rebounds in the Panthers' win over the Tar Heels on Friday. James Robinson added 19 points of his own for Pittsburgh, which led by as many as 20 points in the second half, before fighting off a UNC run late to earn the victory. Lamar Patterson and Cameron Wright finished in double figures as well, with 12 and 11 points, respectively. The Panthers shot an impressive 51.9 percent from the floor in the game.
The Panthers finished third in the ACC in scoring this year (72.6 ppg) and fifth in scoring defense (62.5 ppg), showing great balance. Both seniors, Patterson and Zanna usually fuel the Pittsburgh attack. Patterson ranked fifth in the conference in scoring in the regular season at 17.6 ppg. Zanna added 12.5 ppg and ranked second in the ACC in rebounding (8.3 rpg).
Joe Harris poured in 20 points and Anthony Gill added 16, as Virginia ousted Florida State on Friday, earning their first spot in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament since 1995. The Cavaliers limited the Seminoles to a mere 51 points, holding them to just .426 shooting, while forcing 15 turnovers in the victory.
Defense is what fuels Virginia's success. The Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense (55.4 ppg), holding foes to just .384 shooting. Putting up gaudy scoring totals isn't a priority, but scoring just over 66 points per game is more than enough. All-ACC Second-Team selection Malcolm Brogdon (12.6 ppg) leads the way in the scoring column. Harris, a Third-Team honoree is next in line (11.4 ppg). Forward Akil Mitchell (7.1 ppg) isn't much of a scorer, but is the team's top rebounder (6.9 rpg), picking up honorable mention.
Both these teams like to impose their will on their opponent. The Panthers are red hot in the tournament and if they can find a way to get up early, Virginia is not a come-from-behind type of team.
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