Tony Bennett’s Virginia team doesn’t win a lot of games with ease, but the No. 6 Cavaliers have found ways to methodically grind out wins throughout the entire season. Virginia did it once again on Saturday, as the Cavaliers held off upset-minded Pitt, 51-48, in an ACC Tournament semifinal contest in Greensboro.
Virginia (27-6) advanced to its first ACC title game since 1994 with the win as they still hold out hope for the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
RELATED: Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.
The Cavaliers led for the final 21:45 of Saturday’s win over Pitt — despite never leading by more than eight points — as Virginia’s ball-control offense and steady team defense allowed them to slowly squeeze the Panthers out of the game.
Virginia shot 21-for-45 from the field (46 percent) and 6 of 7 from the free throw line as the Cavalier defense held Pitt to 36 percent shooting from the field.
Pitt freshman point guard James Robinson’s steal and tough, contested lay-up with 11 seconds left cut Virginia’s lead to a point at 49-48, but Anthony Gill made a pair of free throws to get to the final score. Bennett opted to have Virginia play defense instead of fouling on the final possession with his team up three and he was rewarded by reserve sophomore forward Justin Anderson blocking Robinson’s tying three-point attempt to seal the victory.
RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology
Senior Joe Harris led Virginia with 12 points on the afternoon while Malcoln Brogdon (10 points) and Gill (10 points) also finished in double-figures.
Pitt (25-9) was led by Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, as the seniors each had 15 points in the loss.
Virginia isn’t the sexiest team to pick to go to the Final Four, but they’ve won 15 of their last 16 games — with the overtime loss at Maryland last Sunday being their only loss — and with their ability to hold on to the ball and take good shots, they make a five-point lead seem like a 15-point lead. As long as the Cavaliers can dictate the pace of the game and slow things down, they’ll be a very tough out in the tournament.
No. 25 Texas A&M made a statement on Turkey Day, as they knocked off No. 10 Gonzaga 62-61 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Danuel House led the way with 19 points for the Aggies while Tony Trocha-Morales finished with 14 points as Texas A&M picked up the win despite the fact that they did not score for the final eight minutes of the game.
Billy Kennedy’s club looked the part of an SEC contender, playing tough defense and keeping Gonzaga’s massive and talented front line in check. Perhaps most impressive was that they were able to hang on despite blowing a lead late in the second half, and that they did it with their defense. Gonzaga can score. They have big bodies inside and shooters to surround them, but Domantas Sabonis struggled with foul struggle throughout the game while Kyle Wiltjer did not score in the final 12 minutes.
Kentucky, at this point, is the clear-cut favorite in the SEC, and while Vanderbilt looked really good in Maui this week, A&M looks like they’re going to end up giving the Commodores a run for their money for second-best in the league.
On the other hand, this loss wasn’t a total disaster for the Zags. They had the final possession with a chance to be a good team on a day when Domantas Sabonis was rendered completely ineffective. And, more importantly, point guard Josh Perkins was terrific. He did have a late turnover, but he scored all 15 of his points in the second half as he helped keep the Zags within striking distance.
Texas A&M will play the winner of Syracuse and No. 18 UConn for the title.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Syracuse vs. No. 18 UConn, 3:30 p.m.
For the first time since the Orange departed the Big East, the two former rivals will square off. Today’s battle will take place at the Battle 4 Atlantis, as the Orange knocked off Charlotte yesterday and the Huskies dispatched Michigan. To get ready for this battle, I’d suggest ready through the conversation @NoEscalators had with himself last night.
THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Gonzaga, 1:00 p.m.
The other semifinal in the Battle 4 Atlantis could end up being just as good, as the Aggies — who might be the second best team in the SEC — square off with a Gonzaga team that has one of the best front lines in the country. This will be a good test to figure out just how good both of these teams are.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 20 Wichita State vs. USC, 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers will be without Fred VanVleet for this event. It will also be a chance for us to gauge just how good this 4-0 USC team is.
2. No. 23 Xavier vs. Alabama, 12:00 p.m: The Musketeers should have no problems dispatching Alabama.
3. No. 8 Villanova vs. Stanford, 4:30 p.m.: The Wildcats are, once again, as good as any team in the country. Josh Hart might be the nation’s most underrated star.
4. No. 14 Cal vs. San Diego State, 12:00 a.m.: Tyrone Wallace and company have been awesome this season. They get their first real test of the season tonight.
5. Providence vs. Evansville, 7:00 p.m.: Evansville is one of the nation’s best mid-majors, good enough to give the likes of Wichita State and Northern Iowa a fight in the Missouri Valley. And Providence? They got a kid named Kris Dunn. Heard of him?
THE REST OF THE TOP 25
- No. 3 Michigan State vs. Boston College, 6:30 p.m.
- No. 11 Arizona vs. Santa Clara, 11:30 p.m.
- No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Monmouth, 6:30 p.m.