In a magical season marked by one milestone after another, the UVa men's basketball team made more history Sunday night. Before an amped-up crowd that turned PNC Arena into John Paul Jones Arena South, Virginia destroyed Memphis 78-60 to advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1995. "It means the world to have another chance to play with these guys," senior big man Akil Mitchell said. "We're on a roll right now, and I wouldn't trade this for anything." UVa (30-6), the No. 1 seed in the East Region, will meet No. 4 seed Michigan State (28-8) at approximately 10 p.m. Friday at Madison Square Garden. "You get to the Sweet 16, that's the rarified air of college basketball, and you're going to have to play," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "We know who's waiting. We know how good they are. It will be us trying to test our game against one of the teams that's playing their best basketball right now." Twice in 2012-13 the Cavaliers were a victory away from playing in New York City at one of the world's most storied arena, and each time they stumbled. The second loss came in the NIT quarterfinals and ended Virginia's season. "After a while it felt like, `Jeez, every time we try to get to the Garden we come up short,' " Mitchell said. "So we didn't even talk about it this time." In their interviews Saturday afternoon, Memphis' players talked at length about how they expected their quickness and athleticism to pose problems for UVa's defense. Little did they know what awaited them in an arena dominated by Virginia fans. "It felt like almost a home game for us," sophomore center Mike Tobey said. The Cavaliers' trademark Pack-Line defense has rarely been harder to crack. The eighth-seeded Tigers (23-10), who came in averaging 77.4 points, had only 48 with three minutes left Sunday night. For the game, Memphis shot 40.7 percent from the floor (and 23.1 percent from 3-point range). "They've got to be the best defensive team I've ever played against in college," said Joe Jackson, Memphis' senior point guard. With six minutes left in the first half, this was a one-point game. But two free throws by Malcolm Brogdon pushed third-ranked Virginia's lead to 21-18, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Joe Harris and London Perrantes followed. "That was definitely a moment-changer," Perrantes, a freshman point guard, said after yet another impeccable floor game. The `Hoos outscored the Tigers 16-2 to close the half and led 35-20 at the break. As UVa's lead grew, so did Memphis' frustration. "You can see it on their faces," Mitchell said. "You can see it in the way that they guard us, you can see it in the way that they run their actions. They just kind of put their heads down and go, they're frustrated and they're out of their rhythm. And that's what we thrive off of." Bennett, the ACC coach of the year, told his players they needed to "build a wall" against the Tigers' explosive guards. "Build a wall wherever the ball is," Bennett said. "Build a wall, because we had to do that, the way they would try to knife you. I thought we struggled early [with Memphis'] speed down the floor. We weren't sharp early. They got some transition buckets. We were a little out of sync. But once we adjusted and really got back and really set our defense, then we became much more effective." Virginia's offense was as impressive as its defense. Five players scored in double figures for the Cavaliers, who shot 55.6 percent from the floor. "They're just as good offensively as they are defensively," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. With three minutes remaining, UVa led by 27 points. "The way we played in the second half, it was just great," sophomore forward Evan Nolte said. "If you were playing, on the bench or in the stands, it was just beautiful to see."
Next Stop for 'Hoos: Sweet Sixteen
VirginiaSports.com | Mar 25