After two close losses to Duke and N.C. State to begin the ACC season, Virginia men's basketball Coach Pete Gillen said his team just did not know how to win yet. But after last night's 87-85 victory against North Carolina, the Cavaliers seem to have learned a little more about winning.
"The team we have, we can beat any team on any night," Cavalier forward Chris Williams said. "It was just a real good win for our team."
Although Virginia (12-5, 3-2 ACC) started the game off slowly, falling behind at 10-2 after only two minutes of play, the majority of the second half belonged to the Cavaliers.
At halftime, Virginia guard Donald Hand had no points for the first time this year.
"Donald was not shooting good shots," Gillen said. "He was shooting contested threes. We were talking before the game. Last game, we shot 38 threes, a school record. We didn't want to do that."
Center Brendan Haywood had 12 points and five rebounds to lead the way for the No. 21 Tar Heels (11-7, 2-2) and the Cavs did not seem to have a solution for his second-chance dunks.
Carolina guard Joseph Forte also chipped in with 12 points, five assists and five rebounds at the break.
The second half started with the Heels up 43-38, and they held the lead for a little over six minutes. From there on, it was all Virginia.
With guard Majestic Mapp covering Carolina counterpart Ed Cota and Roger Mason pressing his former high school rival Forte, things were looking up for Virginia, leading Gillen to leave Mason and Mapp in the game instead of giving Adam Hall more minutes.
"Roger was shutting down Forte," Gillen said. "Majestic was one of our better players ... He was guarding Cota, which I love. Adam deserved more minutes, but we could only have five guys out there."
Virginia also limited Haywood to eight second-half points, to which Gillen credits the pace of the game.
"We tried to be as physical as we could with [Haywood], lean on him." Gillen said. "I think he got tired with the pace of the game, frankly. We want to do that - make him run. At seven-foot-one, 275 pounds, whatever he is, it's tough to run like that."
For the Cavaliers, Williams led the scoring effort with 24 points, while Travis Watson chipped in 17.
Hand, who did not score until 7:13 in the second half, finished the game with 12 points, including a crucial three point play with 42.2 seconds left when Virginia was clinging to an 81-80 lead.
The game also marked Gillen's 300th career victory as a collegiate coach, and the first time this season that Virginia has knocked off a top-25 opponent.