UNC Refuses to Look Past Virginia As Pitt Showdown Looms

With some fans eyeing next week’s Thursday night showdown Pittsburgh–one of two teams tied with UNC atop the ACC Coastal Division–it’s worth noting that the Tar Heels still have to face the Virginia Cavaliers this Saturday at Kenan Stadium.

Despite coming in to the game as heavy favorites, they refuse to let their focus stray from the task at hand.

Virginia enters this week 2-4 against all competition. In the ACC the Cavaliers have put together a 1-1 mark after a wild 44-38 overtime victory against Syracuse in their last outing.

When UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora looks at the tape, though, he doesn’t see a 2-4 team at all.

Virginia has played tough against some top level opponents this season. (UVA Athletics)

Virginia has played tough against some top level opponents this season. (UVA Athletics)

“If you really look at Virginia, their four losses are against teams that were all ranked at one point,” Fedora said at his weekly press conference. “When I look at that film, I’m saying ‘That’s a good football team that’s gonna come in here.”

A 34-16 opening week loss to then No. 13 UCLA was followed by a heartbreaking 34-27 defeat at home to a Notre Dame team ranked 11th at the time. The Cavaliers’ other losses were to Pittsburgh on the road—a close 26-19 score—and a 56-14 blowout at home against Boise State on national television.

UNC sophomore tailback Elijah Hood says there is no way Virginia can back down from anyone after going through that kind of early season gauntlet.

“When you play a schedule like that, it definitely toughens you up,” Hood said. “I mean, they’re used to seeing talented players, guys who can do a lot of things—some special guys. So they won’t be phased by us.

“They’ve seen some of the better teams in the country already,” he added. “So they’re not gonna be too phased by just, ‘Oh, it’s North Carolina.’”

Traditionally speaking, Hood is right when he says Virginia shouldn’t be phased by the Tar Heels. After all this is a program without an ACC title since 1980. What is there to fear?

Well, the 2015 group has won five games in a row and looks like it has the potential to at least compete for the conference crown—something Fedora continues to hammer home to his players.

“Most people, they get complacent or they [think], ‘Oh things are going great, so I’ll just relax.’” Fedora said. “Well, that’s not how [we] got here. And so we gotta make sure that we continue to do the little things that we harp on a daily basis.

Kenan Stadium has been a tough place for opponents to play this season, with the Tar Heels winning all four of their home games in blowout fashion this year. (UNC Athletics)

Kenan Stadium has been a tough place for opponents to play this season, with the Tar Heels winning all four of their home games in blowout fashion this year. (UNC Athletics)

“They get tired of me, I say it every single day–all these little things that I talk about every day,” the coach continued. “Most of the time it’s going in one ear and out the other, but I’m still saying it every day to reemphasize it that that’s how [we] got to this point. And that’s what it’s going to take to keep being successful.”

Some of those little things may be nitpicky–like getting more consistent offensive drives instead of relying on big plays—but others Fedora has mentioned, such as better defense on third downs will be crucial if the Tar Heels want to win games late in the year.

Sophomore defensive end Dajaun Drennon says the difference between this year’s group and last year’s group is overall team chemistry, which has made learning from criticism much easier for everybody.

“A lot of guys we’re just buying in more to what the coaches are saying,” Drennon said. “And I wouldn’t even say it’s really the coaching staff. I just feel like we’re playing together as a team. We’re trying to get this done for each other.”

Although they’ve won big in recent weeks, the Tar Heels are still a team learning how to manage the expectations that come with winning every week, especially in the dominant fashion with which they’ve been doing it.

The best way they can show their progress in that regard is to come out on Saturday and defeat Virginia in convincing fashion.

Pittsburgh can wait.

Broadcast Information:

The game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves. It will also be televised on the Regional Sports Network.

Game Notes:

  • Freshman cornerback Mike Hughes, suspended last week for his role in an altercation on Franklin Street, will be back in the lineup against Virginia, Fedora said after Wednesday’s practice. Sophomore MJ Stewart, also implicated in the incident, will be reinstated to the team on Sunday and will play next week against Pitt.
  • UNC is currently the only team in the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12, and SEC) that has one or fewer losses and is not in the top 25.
  • This will be the 120th meeting between UNC and UVA.
  • Quarterback Marquise Williams is just 85 rushing yards shy of 2,000 for his career. He would be just the fifth quarterback in ACC history to accomplish the feat.

Tar Heels Fall Short On Senior Day: Virginia Sweeps

The Virginia Cavaliers scored five runs in the sixth inning against five different Tar Heel pitchers on Saturday, en route to an 8-2 victory over the UNC baseball team at Boshamer Stadium–giving the senior day festivities for Benton Moss and Trevor Kelley an unpleasant ending.

Carolina has now been swept in each of its last two ACC series, the first time that’s happened since 2001. The Tar Heels finish the regular season 13-16 in the conference and 32-22 overall.

Meanwhile, the successful weekend road trip helps the Cavaliers finish at 15-15 in ACC play and 33-19 against all competition.

“I don’t know how [Virginia’s] lost 15 games in the league, as well as they played. They obviously played well and we didn’t” said UNC head coach Mike Fox, “[We] didn’t make pitches and we haven’t swung the bat well in ACC play. Getting six or seven hits has kind of been our norm. We obviously needed better than that today.”

Benton Moss struggled in his final game at Boshamer Stadium–lasting just 3 innings while giving up two runs–and his fellow senior, Trevor Kelley, took over and pitched well initially, but ultimately ran into trouble against the talented Virginia lineup.

Benton Moss struggled on his senior day. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss struggled on his senior day. (UNC Athletics)

Kelley brought some life into the stadium after the Cavaliers loaded the bases in the fourth inning with no outs. The senior from Wilmington escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts and an inning-ending groundout by shortstop Daniel Pinero.

Right fielder Tyler Ramirez then blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game at two apiece, but the crowd was quickly silenced by Virginia’s explosion in the sixth.

“We definitely wanted to come out and play well for those two [Moss and Kelley] because we love those guys, they’re awesome dudes,” Ramirez said afterwards, “So it’s definitely disappointing not being able to put up some runs for them and give them a [win] on senior day.”

Kelley hit the first batter he faced in the frame and later allowed a one-out single to Adam Haseley. Pitching Coach Scott Forbes then came out to the mound to remove Kelley, who received a loud ovation from the crowd as he stepped off the mound in Chapel Hill for the last time.

Then the wheels fell off.

Immediately Virginia pounced on junior Trent Thornton for runs in the next three at-bats–back-to-back RBI singles from Pinero and Matt Thaiss followed by a sacrifice fly from Kenny Towns put the Tar Heels in a 5-2 hole.

Zach Rice took the ball from Thornton, but was sent right back to the dugout after walking the only man he faced.

Then freshman Hansen Butler met a similar fate as Thornton–allowing the two batters he saw, Robbie Coman and Joe McCarthy, to slap run-scoring singles before he was benched in favor of Spencer Trayner, who finally ended the inning.

The teams shake hands after the game. (UNC Athletics)

The teams shake hands after the game. (UNC Athletics)

And as they have all weekend long, the Tar Heel hitters looked absolutely confused at the plate against Virginia’s dominant pitching staff.

They managed just six hits in this game, while finishing the series having scored just five runs–three of which came from Tyler Ramirez’s two home runs.

Afterwards, both seniors–Moss and Kelley–were very emotional about losing their final home game in a Carolina uniform—something Coach Fox says will heal with time.

“I feel bad for them,” said Fox, “But it doesn’t take away from what they’ve done here. I think over time they’ll see that. I’m sure today’s a sore spot, but over time I think you look back over your whole career–which I’m sure they’ll do.”

Up Next:

ACC Tournament action begins on Tuesday at 3 p.m. for the Tar Heels. They’ll be competing in one of the two play-in games against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Pitchers for that game have yet to be determined.

Game Notes:

  • UNC went 5-38 at the plate this weekend with runners on base.
  • The Tar Heels finish the year with a 21-9 record in games played at Boshamer Stadium.
  • Carolina used eight different pitchers on Saturday.



Virginia Chases Bukauskas Early and Shuts UNC Down to Take Series

An early offensive spark, paired with another impressive pitching performance, delivered the Virginia Cavaliers a 6-2 victory over the UNC baseball team on Friday night at Boshamer Stadium.

Their fifth consecutive conference loss drops the Tar Heels to 13-15 in the ACC and 32-21 overall, but there was a silver lining. They clinched a spot in next week’s ACC tournament with Wake Forest’s loss at Duke on Friday.

Virginia also clinches its spot in the tournament, and improves to 14-15 in league play–while increasing its overall mark to 32-19.

Much like his teammate Connor Jones on Thursday, left-handed starting pitcher Brandon Waddell baffled the Tar Heel lineup all night. Waddell (3-4) worked seven shutout innings on his way to the win, giving up seven hits while striking out six batters in his best start of the season.

“They know how to attack our hitters,” said UNC head coach Mike Fox, “I mean, Waddell when he needed a strikeout threw [his] cutter to our righties down and in. And they make big pitches when they needed to. That’s the sign of an experienced pitcher who knows when he needs to make a big pitch with guys in scoring position–and they were able to do that.”

“They’re very well coached,” Fox added.

JB Bukauskas had the shortest start of his young career on Friday night. (UNC Athletics)

JB Bukauskas had the shortest start of his young career on Friday night. (UNC Athletics)

The Cavaliers also jumped all over Carolina freshman starter JB Bukauskas (4-3) right away–constantly making hard contact with Bukauskas’ 95 mph fastball on their way to five runs in the first two innings.

Kenny Towns, the Virginia third baseman, hit an RBI double with two men on base to open scoring in the first inning. He then came in to score shortly after. A wild pitch to the next batter, Pavin Smith, let Matt Thaiss cross the plate while Towns advanced to third. Smith then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to bring Towns in for the third run of the frame.

Pitching Coach Scott Forbes visited the mound to speak with his young pitcher during the opening frame, but decided to let him try and work out his issues.

Virginia was just fine with that decision, as they tacked on two more runs in the second–both coming with one out.

That would be the end of the road for Bukauskas, after giving up five runs on just 34 pitches. It was the shortest start of the season for the freshman (1.1 innings), who also happens to be a Virginia native.

“JB’s gotta learn to pitch,” said Coach Fox, “He’s gotten by in high school with just–kinda what you see out there–‘just kinda rear back and throw it’. And that doesn’t happen at this level…he’s learning that.”

Trevor Kelley extended his NCAA lead in relief appearances when he came out of the bullpen for Bukauskas and pitched the next 2.2 innings–holding the Cavaliers scoreless in that time.

Kelley was replaced by freshman Hansen Butler to begin the top of the fifth. Butler finished the inning, but not before Virginia extended its lead on an RBI single by designated hitter Jack Gerstenmaier.

The Tar Heels best chance to take a chunk out of the lead in the first half of the game came in the second inning. A string of fortunate outcomes helped them load the bases against Cavalier lefty Brandon Waddell despite not picking up a hit.

Tyler Ramirez had two hits for the Tar Heels.(UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez had two hits for the Tar Heels.(UNC Athletics)

Center fielder Skye Bolt reached on an error, and a pair of walks to Korey Dunbar and Joe Dudek gave freshman Zack Gahagan a prime opportunity to drive in some runs. Waddell escaped the jam, though, getting Gahagan to strike out on four pitches.

From there UNC scattered five hits over the next four innings against Waddell until its next big chance in the bottom of the seventh.

Gahagan led off the frame with a single, which was followed by Tyler Ramirez’s second base hit of the game–putting runners on first and second with no outs.

However, Alex Raburn grounded into a double play, and then Landon Lassiter flew out to keep Virginia’s shutout alive.

Not until Waddell was removed from the game in favor of reliever Josh Sborz did the Tar Heels put some runs across the plate.

Freshman shortstop Logan Warmoth smacked a two-run double off of Sborz, which drove in Dunbar and Eli Sutherland–preventing UNC from being kept off the scoreboard for the first time all season.

But it was not enough to climb out of the early hole, as Sborz tossed a scoreless ninth to preserve the victory.

After all of Friday’s ACC action, the Tar Heels know they have a spot in the conference tournament. But they’ll have to win a play-in game on Tuesday to advance into the pool play round that runs the rest of the week.

Warmoth said that might not be a bad thing for this team.

“We wish we didn’t have to play in the play-in game, but right now I’m trying to tell people I’d rather play in that game right now, [try to] win Tuesday to get some momentum going into the real tournament, and then not stopping, not looking back,” he said.

Up Next:

The series, and the regular season, will conclude with tomorrow’s finale. First pitch is set to be thrown at noon, with senior Benton Moss (7-0, 3.17 ERA) taking the mound for the Tar Heels. Virginia’s starter is yet to be determined.

Game Notes:

  • Including Friday, three of Bukauskas’ last four starts have lasted three innings or fewer.
  • UNC has not beaten Virginia in a series since 2012.
  • Over the last two nights, the Tar Heels have gone 3-28 with runners on base.
  • Alex Raburn grounded into four double plays for Carolina.



Cavaliers Spoil Gallen’s Night, Rally to Win in Extras

Zac Gallen was two outs away from his third complete game of the season for the Tar Heels when it all fell apart.

“Any time you get in a good groove you don’t really want to come out,” says Gallen, “But it’s Coach’s decision, so you gotta do what he says. I mean, I would have loved to finish the game out but what [am I] gonna do?”

Trailing 1-0 entering the ninth inning, the Virginia Cavaliers rallied to force extra innings against Gallen’s replacements out of the bullpen before picking up a thrilling 10 inning 2-1 victory on Thursday night, beating the UNC baseball team at Boshamer Stadium.

The blown opportunity drops the Tar Heels below .500 in the conference, at 13-14, while their overall record slips to 32-20.

Virginia jumps to 13-15 in league play, and 31-19 against all competition after the come from behind win.

Pitching and defense ruled the night at Boshamer Stadium on Thursday. (UNC Athletics)

Pitching and defense ruled the night at Boshamer Stadium on Thursday. (UNC Athletics)

Thursday’s major storyline focused on Gallen and Virginia sophomore right-hander Connor Jones, who went toe-to-toe in a fantastic pitchers’ duel all night long.

After allowing a pair of Cavalier hits in the top of the first inning, Gallen settled down and cruised through the opposing lineup with ease–until giving up a crucial one-out double in the ninth.

Gallen’s counterpart, Jones, also finished eight innings while putting up an impressive stat line. The right-hander gave up a home run, but struck out nine Tar Heels while only walking one.

The Tar Heel bats–which have started to heat up recently–definitely cooled back down on Thursday.

Only two UNC runners reached second base over the first five frames, despite the team slapping five base hits during that time.

That changed momentarily in the bottom of the sixth, however, when right fielder Tyler Ramirez caught all of a 2-0 pitch from Jones–sending it flying over the fence in left center field for the game’s first run.

Tyler Ramirez shows some excitement after his home run in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

Tyler Ramirez shows some excitement after his home run in the sixth. (UNC Athletics)

From there, the attention went right back to Gallen’s bid for a shutout on the mound.

Virginia led off the seventh inning with a single by catcher Robbie Coman, but Coman got himself caught trying to steal second base, as Gallen finished off the inning with a pair of flyouts.

Daniel Pinero, the Cavaliers’ shortstop, then reached base in the eighth on a two-out walk–only to head right back to the dugout when his teammate Matt Thaiss flew out to left.

Even though his pitch count had reached 104, Gallen came back out for the ninth to try and finish off yet another Boshamer masterpiece. The sophomore came into Thursday night having thrown complete games in each of his previous two home starts.

Unfortunately for him, Virginia left fielder Pavin Smith launched a one-out double over the head of Skye Bolt in center field, which was enough for Coach Fox to make the move to Trevor Kelley out of the bullpen.

And just like that, the game took a surprise turn.

“You gotta give them a lot of credit,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox, “We made some mistakes, and they took advantage of it at the plate. We bring Trevor in and we know we’re gonna get a groundball–probably–[and the] matchup we wanted.”

“The ball should have stayed in the infield and it didn’t.”

Robbie Coman got the best of Kelley–the Tar Heels’ go-to reliever–by smashing a single up the middle, which scored Smith and tied the game for the visiting team.

UNC kept more damage from being done by turning to two more relievers, Zach Rice and Trent Thornton, who made sure things stayed tied heading into the bottom of the ninth.

Carolina’s offense was then set down in order in their turn at the plate, giving the Cavaliers a shot to steal the victory.

Virginia led off the 10th inning against Thornton with another big-time double, this one by center fielder Adam Haseley.

Korey Dunbar (right) and reliever Zach Rice (left) meet on the mound after UVA tied the game up. (UNC Athletics)

Korey Dunbar (right) and reliever Zach Rice (left) meet on the mound after UVA tied the game up. (UNC Athletics)

A pair of walks then loaded the bases for Pavin Smith, who again came through in the clutch. His groundball led to a fielders’ choice, allowing Haseley to come home and score the eventual winning run.

The Tar Heels’ did threaten to score against Virginia closer Alec Bettinger in their half of the 10th, but ultimately came up just 90 feet short.

Alex Raburn walked to lead-off the inning, and later advanced to third base on a sacrifice by Logan Warmoth, and a pitch from Bettinger that got by the catcher.

However, Landon Lassiter couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity at the plate, popping out to end the game.

With Thursday’s loss, and a win by Wake Forest, the Tar Heels still find themselves needing a win to get in to the ACC tournament–much to the dismay of their coach.

“I can’t even believe we’re talking about that as our goal, but it is right now,” says Fox.

“It’s just a tough loss. We’ve got to get up off the mat and try it again tomorrow. We’ve been in this situation before. This league prepares you for a lot of things, and it prepares you for this. You have a tough loss and you gotta play the next day.”

Up Next:

The second game of the series is scheduled to begin Friday at 6:30 p.m. Tar Heel freshman JB Bukauskas (4-2, 3.70 ERA) is set to take the mound opposite Virginia lefty Brandon Waddell (2-4, 4.88 ERA).

Game Notes:

  • This was the 290th meeting all-time between UNC and Virginia, tying NC State as the Tar Heels’ most common opponent through the years. Carolina still holds the series lead with a 179-107-4 record.
  • Tyler Ramirez is second on the team in home runs, hitting his eighth on Thursday to move within one of team leader Skye Bolt.
  • The teams combined to go 2-25 with runners on base. UNC went 0-12.
  • Gallen has now pitched in 42.1 innings at Boshamer Stadium this season, while surrendering just two earned runs.



UNC-UVA Series Holds Major Post-Season Implications

It’s now or never for the UNC baseball team this weekend, as it hosts the Virginia Cavaliers at Boshamer Stadium in the final ACC weekend series of the year–with each team looking to put themselves in a favorable position heading into next week’s conference tournament.

The Tar Heels come into the matchup placed seventh in the league, with a 13-13 mark in ACC games and an overall record of 32-19, while Virginia sits in 10th, at 12-15 in conference play and 30-19 against all competition.

“I just told [the players on Tuesday] that after 50 games [our season’s] boiled down to four games, and now it’s three,” says UNC head coach Mike Fox.

Head coach Mike Fox congratulates his center-fielder, Skye Bolt, after Bolt's ninth home run of the season on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

Head coach Mike Fox congratulates his center-fielder, Skye Bolt, after Bolt’s ninth home run of the season on Tuesday. (UNC Athletics)

“They get it, they can do the math. You’re either wanting to relish that, and understand it and play well, or you don’t. And if we don’t, and we’re not ready for it, and we don’t play well, we don’t deserve to move on.”

This upcoming series will have a huge say in both the Tar Heels’ and the Cavaliers’ postseason chances.

A series win for UNC could vault them into the top six in the conference, earning them a bye straight in to ACC pool play, while another disappointing performance could place them into a “winner-take-all” play-in game for a second straight year—something center-fielder Skye Bolt would like to avoid at all costs.

“We don’t wanna play that game, we did it last year. Nobody wants to play that game on top of fighting for a spot in the tournament,” says Bolt, “You don’t want to be in the situation that we’re currently in where [we’re] having to find a spot, period.”

“We’re better than our record shows. That’s the game of baseball, but it’s a double-edged sword and we’re wearing it right now, so we just gotta keep playing the ball that we’re capable of–and we have been.”

Last season the Tar Heels finished seventh in the league, and were forced to play NC State in a play-in game in order to reach the round-robin pool play used to determine the conference championship game. They defeated the Wolfpack in Greensboro by a score of 4-3 before eventually bowing out of the tournament in the next round, with a 1-2 record in pool play.

Trevor Kelley has been the team MVP this year out of the bullpen, and has plenty of postseason experience in his four years on campus. (UNC Athletics)

Trevor Kelley has been the team MVP this year out of the bullpen, and has plenty of postseason experience in his four years on campus. (UNC Athletics)

Only the top 10 out of the conference’s 14 teams qualify for the tournament–held in Durham this year–which means both UNC and Virginia could potentially find themselves on the outside looking in if they were to be swept in the series this weekend.

Both teams have performed slightly below some of the lofty expectations placed upon them to start the year, with each squad taking a tumble outside the nation’s top 25.

However, Coach Fox says these teams always seem to play better against one another, which along with the tight standings, should certainly raise the intensity level this weekend.

“We always play well against Virginia and they play well against us,” says Fox, “[There’s] been some great series that we’ve played against them. They’ve swept us and we’ve swept them up there [in Charlottesville].”

“They’re fighting for their life, we’re fighting for our life”

The Cavaliers’ struggles have been one of the top stories across the land after many preseason polls had them ranked second in the nation, but they still have the talent to compete with anyone–even after a crushing injury to their All-American starting pitcher, Nathan Kirby.

That level of talent is something that will require the Tar Heels to be at their very best in all areas of the game.

“They lost [Nathan] Kirby, which kinda hurts them, but they’ve still got good arms. They’re gonna play good fundamental baseball, they’re well coached, and we just gotta go up there and play ball like we’re capable,” says Skye Bolt, “Pitch, play defense, and hopefully continue this offensive swing that we’ve had.”

The Tar Heels' season could come down to one play with the position they're in. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels’ season could come down to one play with the position they’re in. (UNC Athletics)

Bolt has been the leader of Carolina’s recent hot streak with the bats, hitting four home runs over the last five games–putting himself all alone in the team lead in that category after slugging nine long-balls on the year.

With the stakes as high as they are for this series, it can be tough to predict what will happen out on the diamond.

For a man as experienced in pressure situations as Mike Fox, though, it’s a very simple task.

“I think the team that comes in and plays the most relaxed will have the better opportunity to win,” says the coach, “the team that feels the pressure a little bit of ‘if we lose’–playing the ‘if’ game–‘if we lose we’re not gonna…’ If you play that game, you’ll have a hard time winning.”

The first pitch of the series is set to be thrown on Thursday at 7 p.m., with the games scheduled to run from Thursday through Saturday–instead of Friday through Sunday–in order to give the teams an extra day of rest before the beginning of the ACC tournament next Tuesday.

All games will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves.


Carolina Outduels Virginia For Championship Spot

Marcus Paige hit two free throws with 3.9 seconds left to secure a memorable Tar Heel victory Friday night in Greensboro.

The No. 5 seed North Carolina men’s basketball team battled past top-seeded Virginia , 71-67, to advance to the ACC Championship game for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

***Listen to the story***

With the victory, the Tar Heels improved to 24-10 overall while the Cavaliers dropped to 29-3 on the season.

Roy Williams was fired up Friday night (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams was fired up Friday night (Todd Melet)

“We made some big plays down the stretch. Made six of our last seven free throws. I think that was big. We’re especially pleased to be here still playing,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says.

Freshman forward Justin Jackson scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Carolina scoring charge. Jackson’s smooth, serene movements impressed all in attendance in the packed-out Coliseum.

“I always knew I was a shooter. Obviously, like you said, the numbers didn’t show it. But for me, I knew it would come around sooner or later,” Jackson says.

Justin Jackson shot the lights out of the ball (Todd Melet)

Justin Jackson shot the lights out of the ball (Todd Melet)

In addition to Jackson’s stellar performance, Paige contributed 14 points and five assists. Junior forward Brice Johnson posted 13 points and six rebounds.

The Tar Heels led wire-to-wire and imposed their pace of play on the Cavaliers, who appeared tentative early.

“That wasn’t who we were to start. And again, Carolina came after us. They were charged and just the easy looks they got, we were on our heels, their pressure really bothered us, and we just looked, I don’t know what the word is,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett says.

But after a 30-23 halftime lead for UNC, UVA guard Malcolm Brogdon got a pep talk from Coach Bennett. It worked.

Brogdon came to life and played like the champion he is down the stretch, knocking down clutch shot after clutch shot. He epitomized cool under pressure and his calm demeanor and poise was exemplary. In one stint, Brogdon scored 12 straight points for the Cavaliers.

Everything was left on the floor - hustle plays abound (Todd Melet)

Everything was left on the floor – hustle plays abound (Todd Melet)

On the other side of the floor, Paige embodied many of the same characteristics. Whenever the Tar Heels needed a bucket, he delivered.

“We competed at the highest level we’ve competed all year, and that was one thing that was a positive for us,” Paige says.

Back and forth they went down the stretch. Things got dicey for UNC when Brogdon cut the deficit down to a single point with 1:16 remaining, but the Tar Heels never truly faltered. UVA just upped the ante, like it normally does, in the money minutes.

The difference? Carolina finished with a 54.8-percent shooting clip from the floor, including a sharp 50 percent from three-point land. Virginia shot 44 percent overall and just 31 percent from behind the arc.

Brogdon tallied 25 points to lead all scorers while Anthony Gill and London Perrantes each finished with 12 points apiece.

In the Greensboro Coliseum, the Cavaliers remain winless against the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, dropping to 0-6 all-time.

Brogdon fights for the ball with JP Tokoto (Todd Melet)

Brogdon fights for the ball with JP Tokoto (Todd Melet)

Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., the Tar Heels will have the chance to become the first team to win the ACC Tournament by winning four games in four days. Their opponent? Notre Dame. Not Duke.

Jackson says fatigue shouldn’t be an issue for Carolina.

“Honestly, there’s no excuse. We made it to the championship, and other teams played games these past couple days. So we’re going to get rested up tonight, come out tomorrow whatever time the game is, and be ready to play them,” Jackson says.




Dominant Cavaliers Smack Down Tar Heels

The No. 12 North Carolina men’s basketball team fell flat in the second half for the second straight game, falling to No. 3 Virginia, 75-64, Monday night in the Smith Center to drop to 17-6 overall and 7-3 in ACC play.

With the victory, the Cavaliers improved to 20-1 on the season and an 8-1 mark in conference action.

***Listen to the story***

Yet again, it was a tale of two halves for the Tar Heels, who couldn’t buy a basket in the final 20 minutes of play. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, used a characteristically efficient offense to speed away and put the game to bed. It was only UVA’s fourth all-time win in the Smith Center.

***Click here for the full game photo gallery***

A dejected UNC bench looks on Monday night (Todd Melet)

A dejected UNC bench looks on Monday night (Todd Melet)

“They fought. I think we got back to the mentality that we needed to.  I said in the postgame interview after that our way is a blue-collar way.  It’s a fighting way.  Our guys, I think, responded well and really rallied,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett says.

The Cavaliers used a balanced scoring attack to great effect. Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon led the way with 17 points, but junior Justin Anderson was impressive as well, tallying 16 points and adding in seven assists.

As for the Tar Heels, it was junior guard Marcus Paige’s 15 points that topped the stat sheet. Junior forward Brice Johnson added in 14 points of his own to go along with a team-leading eight rebounds.

But it wasn’t nearly enough to keep UNC in contact down the stretch. Once again, UNC head coach Roy Williams was left to question his team’s toughness.

“I’m disappointed in our sense of urgency at some points during the game. I’m disappointed that we gave in. I’m sitting here thinking that we need some practice time. Bottom line is I admire what Tony [Bennett’s] team has done. He does a great job coaching and his kids have bought into it completely. They share the basketball, they don’t turn it over,” Coach Williams says.

***Listen to Roy Williams’ postgame remarks***

Carolina, though, appeared to come out of the gates with an urgency that Coach Williams thought was lacking against Louisville, surging to a 14-8 lead with 12:41 on the first half clock. In fact, Coach Bennett was forced to call a timeout to regroup his bunch of Cavaliers.

Nate Britt shoots over a pair of Cavalier defenders (Todd Melet)

Nate Britt shoots over a pair of Cavalier defenders (Todd Melet)

But it was Anderson who kept his team in the contest in the in the early going. With 8:41 to play, the Cavaliers had scraped out a tie with the Tar Heels thanks in large part to Anderson’s nine quick points.

From there, the Cavaliers got extra production from sophomore guard London Perrantes to take a 30-27 advantage with 3:27 to go before halftime.

But after enduring a shooting drought that saw the Tar Heels go one for six from the line in one stretch, a last- second make by Kennedy Meeks gave UNC the 33-32 lead at intermission.

Out of the break, it was Virginia that stamped its authority, taking quality shots and taking a 42-38 lead with 13:42 to play in the contest.

Brice Johnson showed flashes of brilliance, but it wasn't enough against the Cavaliers. (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson showed flashes of brilliance, but it wasn’t enough against the Cavaliers. (Todd Melet)

Meanwhile, Carolina looked sluggish and out of sorts, failing to build any rhythm on the offensive end. In fact, in the first ten minutes, the Tar Heels connected on a mere four out of their first 14 shots.

With 9:38 to play, Virginia held a commanding 54-44 lead.

From there, the Cavaliers coasted to the final buzzer for a stress-free victory and a rare one at that, in the Smith Center.

Leading UNC scorer Paige says things aren’t going to turn around unless the entire squad goes all-in.

“We’re trying to figure out how to do that.  Like I said, we have talent, we have pieces.  But if you don’t have five guys buying in, playing every possession the way coach preaches.  It sounds cliché, and that’s boring talk for media, it’s not anything juicy for you guys, but it’s the truth,” Paige says.

The struggling Tar Heels will now get some time to regroup. UNC won’t return to action until the weekend, with a road game at Boston College Saturday at 3 p.m.



Smarting Cavaliers, Tar Heels Meet In Pivotal ACC Battle

The No. 13 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 17-5 overall and 7-2 in ACC play, looks to avoid a two-game slide Monday night in the Smith Center when the league-leading and second-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, 19-1 overall and 7-1 in conference, visit Chapel Hill for a pivotal ACC showdown.

***Listen to the story***

“We talked about trying not to turn the basketball over and give them openings. We tried to talk about not fouling, and we put them on the line 44 times. […] I’m not talking about the officials. We made the fouls, and we shouldn’t have done that,” UNC head coach Roy Williams says. “The other thing we talked about was doing a great job on the backboards, and they got 17 points on offensive rebounds in the second half – poor job of playing, worse job of coaching.”

Coming off a brutal loss at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals Saturday, Carolina has no time to mourn the 18-point second half lead it let slip away.

Such is life in the ACC. A new opponent and a fresh challenge awaits the Tar Heels Monday night in a two-game in 48-hour stretch UNC is getting used to this season.

Malcolm Brogdon on teh dribble (UVA Athletics)

Malcolm Brogdon on the dribble (UVA Athletics)

Carolina’s opponent, Virginia, can empathize with UNC’s predicament. The Cavaliers will need to move on quickly from an energy-sapping home court loss to the Duke Blue Devils Saturday night that ended their pursuit at perfection.

Coach Williams, meanwhile, will be preaching toughness in his pregame locker room speech. UNC miserably lost in that department against the more physical and aggressive Cardinals – who emphatically outrebounded, outhustled and outmanned the reeling Tar Heels.

Coach Williams, though, is taking the blame.

“That shows you something how much Louisville wanted the basketball. I hate to say this, but I’ve done a poor job of coaching, because they evidently wanted the basketball and were tougher about it than I was,” Coach Williams says.

Luckily for UNC, it appears Marcus Paige merely rolled his ankle Saturday in the KFC Yum! Center, so the junior guard should be good to go against Virginia.

Paige, who’s shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range in ACC play, says he’s eager to wipe the sour taste out of his mouth.

“I’d rather play games than practice any day. I’m excited for the challenge that Virginia’s going to bring to our gym,” Paige says.

It’s still unclear whether freshman guard Joel Berry will see action in the Dean Dome against the Cavaliers, although Coach Williams says he’s doubtful.

The methodical Cavaliers, led by head coach Tony Bennett, will hope to slow down the proceedings to a snail’s crawl; while the Tar Heels will attempt to run the show at warp speed. It provides an intriguing contrast in styles.

Marcus Paige on the drive (Nick Vitali)

Marcus Paige on the drive (Nick Vitali)

The Tar Heels lead the head-to-head series with the Cavaliers 128-51, but came up short in their most recent meeting – a 76-61 victory for UVA in Charlottesville last season.

UNC junior forward Brice Johnson got into foul trouble early at Louisville. Needless to say, it took him out of his game. Johnson says he’s ready to make amends.

“We knew they’d put up a fight. They ended up fighting and ended up winning. We got to be ready to compete a little bit better. Myself personally, I shouldn’t have played the way I did. You just got to be ready for the next one,” Johnson says.

Which team will best respond to weekend adversity Monday night? Everything is still on the line.

With a win, the Cavaliers would put distance between themselves and the rest of the ACC pack. A Tar Heel victory would catapult UNC into a tie for the conference lead.

Despite the bitterness of recent defeats, for one school, the Smith Center will serve as the perfect rehabilitation center.


WSoc Bows Out of ACC Tourney In 2-0 Loss to UVA

The North Carolina women’s soccer team, crowned the conference regular season champions,  has been eliminated from the ACC championship tournament after falling to the Virginia Cavaliers in a 2-0 shutout loss in the semifinals Friday night at UNC-Greensboro Soccer Stadium.

With the loss, the Tar Heels fell to 12-2-2 on the season while the Cavaliers improved to 18-1.

Greensboro’s 46-degree weather didn’t stop the speed or intensity of the rivalry game as UVA forward Makenzy (muh-KEN-zee) Doniak  scored her 14th goal of the season in the first ten minutes of play. A long-range shot in the 29th minute by Virginia sophomore forward Morgan Reuther sealed the last goal of the game. The goal was assisted by the conference midfielder of the year, Danielle Colaprico.

Three impressive saves by Carolina junior keeper Bryane Heaberlin spared the Heels from a blow-out deficit after the first half.

Megan Buckingham is the first Tar Heel to be named ACC Freshman of the Year since Lindsay Tarpley in 2002. (UNC Athletics)

Megan Buckingham is the first Tar Heel to be named ACC Freshman of the Year since Lindsay Tarpley in 2002. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels’ best chance to start a run against the Cavaliers was a last minute kick that was stopped by a header from UVA freshman Megan Reid to keep Carolina off of the board going into halftime.

Even with solid scoring position and a penalty kick in the 21st minute of the second half, the Tar Heel offense failed to convert on its opportunities.

UNC is now 59-4-4 all-time in the ACC Tournament.

During the night’s halftime interview, UNC head coach Anson Dorrance praised Virginia as having the best midfield in the country. Their dominant midfield and offensive presence leads the conference in goals scored with 65.

The fourth-seeded Cavaliers will face top-seeded Florida State on Sunday in Greensboro for the ACC title.


‘Comeback Carolina’ Keeps Coastal Crown In Sight

UNC head coach Larry Fedora wasn’t pleased with the way his football team played Saturday in Charlottesville. But the Tar Heels snuck past the Cavaliers and in turn, kept alive their dreams of playing in the ACC Championship game.

***Listen to the story***

It was a complete team victory for Carolina. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones stepped up with a momentum-shifting interception late in the contest and wide receiver Mack Hollins snagged a pair of electrifying touchdowns.

But despite only coming in for a single play, backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky may have been the player of the game. After losing his helmet a play earlier, junior signal caller Marquise Williams was by rule, forced to sit out the following play and on a third down and 15 in the red zone, Trubisky took center stage.

Mitch Trubisky came up big for the Tar Heels (UNC Athletics)

Mitch Trubisky came up big for the Tar Heels (UNC Athletics)

The go-ahead score to T.J. Thorpe stunned the Charlottesville faithful, but for Coach Fedora, he wasn’t at all surprised by Trubisky’s heroics.

“We’ve got confidence in Mitch. We knew Mitch can go in and execute – that’s why we’ve done what we’ve done with him all year and why he’s played. This team has confidence in what he can do. He showed it,” Coach Fedora says.

But the game was sealed by an improbable gamble by Coach Fedora with the 28-27 lead. In a decision that was reminiscent of LSU head coach Les Miles, Coach Fedora elected to go for an onsides kick. The Tar Heels executed perfectly.

Coach Fedora, who’s now a spotless 5-0 against Virginia in his coaching career, says he had full confidence the play would work. He wanted the ball in his offense’s hands.

“It was there all day. It was a great time to do it. I wanted to have the ball in our hands when the game was over. Those guys did that,” Coach Fedora says.

Despite the dramatic road win that evened UNC’s record up at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in ACC action, Coach Fedora says he didn’t think his team played all that well.

“We didn’t play very well anywhere actually. What we had to do was find a way to win a football game. We did that,” Coach Fedora says.

Nazair Jones snagged a big interception Saturday (UNC Athletics)

Nazair Jones snagged a big interception Saturday (UNC Athletics)

The stat sheet backs up Coach Fedora. The Cavaliers had six more first downs than the Tar Heels, gained more yards and dominated the time of possession. But UNC had the edge where it counts most – the scoreboard.

Coach Fedora says the victory was made more special in light of the disturbing conclusions drawn from the Wainstein Report that has a dark cloud hovering around the University.

“We got a lot of people that are getting blasted. There’s a lot of negativity out there. I can assure you, our University, our football team and everybody that’s a Tar Heel will be much stronger from this. We’ll overcome it,” Coach Fedora says.

And with the gutsy win, Carolina’s improbable drive to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte stays alive, at least for another week.