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Friday, October 24, 2014

UVa hosts confounding UNC

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Posted: Monday, January 20, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 9:07 am, Mon Jan 20, 2014.

There’s the win over Louisville and then there’s the loss to Belmont. There’s the win over Michigan State and then there’s the loss to UAB. There’s the win over Kentucky and then there’s the loss to Miami.

Virginia will play another men’s basketball team tonight, but it just doesn’t know which.

The giant-killing North Carolina Tar Heels or the vulnerable North Carolina Tar Heels?

“We got to prepare for the team that can beat any team in the country,” said UVa forward Akil Mitchell.

The Wahoos (13-5, 4-1 ACC) and the Heels (11-6, 1-3) will square off at 7 p.m., this evening, at John Paul Jones Arena. ESPN will televise the game, allowing the country to continue its judging of this unique UNC bunch.

North Carolina entered 2013-14 as the nation’s 12th-ranked team. It was selected to finish third in the ACC.

Even without leading scorer P.J. Hairston, the Tar Heels managed a 2-0 start with an average margin of victory of 15.5 points.

Then the wackiness arrived.

On Nov. 17, UNC fell to Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference, 83-80. A week later, the Heels took down defending national champion and third-ranked Louisville, 93-84, in Uncasville, Conn.

"It's a completely different feeling than it was seven days ago at the end of the Belmont game when we didn't play," Carolina coach Roy Williams said afterward. "Today I thought we played exceptionally well."

But that wave of momentum came to a complete halt the very next week when the Heels lost to Conference USA’s UAB in Birmingham, 63-59.

But three days later? North Carolina gave then-No. 1 Michigan State its first defeat of the season. And 10 days after that? North Carolina topped freshman-loaded Kentucky.

The roller coaster continued into the conference portion of the schedule where the Tar Heels lost three straight before knocking off Boston College on Saturday.

“They’re talented,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said Saturday following the Cavaliers’ 78-66 dusting of Florida State. “You see them playing Louisville, Kentucky, the quality wins they have. That’s a storied program and they have very gifted players.

“And when your back is against the wall, as we saw against Duke, you see teams come out and respond. It’ll be our job to be as ready as we can.”

Of course, no matter which UNC team strolls into JPJ, Virginia appears able to knock it off.

The Cavs have won 11 consecutive league home games. In those two matchups this season, they’ve outscored their opponents by a combined 35 points.

Saturday, they put the Seminoles away early, leading 14-3 less than six minutes into the first half.

“It was great to come back and play at home,” said senior guard Joe Harris, who leads Virginia in scoring at 11.3 points per game. “Just with the energy in the building, the fans were really into it and they seemed like they were into the game the entire time, which was great.”

UNC is led by guard Marcus Paige, who averages 17 points and four assists a contest. Forward and Norfolk native James Michael McAdoo averages 15 points and six rebounds a game.

That duo combined for 26 points in the last UVa-UNC meeting, a 93-81 Tar Heel win on Feb. 16, 2013, in Chapel Hill.

“They’re a very talented team,” Harris said. “They’ve shown that they can play with anyone in the country. I’m sure they’re going to come into our place and be playing pretty well.

“It’ll be a tough game, but we’re looking forward to it.”

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