In the midst of a two-game winning streak that has kept hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth alive, the Virginia men's basketball team (17-8, 7-5 ACC) faces a daunting task Sunday when they travel to North Carolina to face the Tar Heels (16-9, 7-4).
The excitement of the Cavaliers' earlier home victory over the Tar Heels has been tempered by the fact that the Cavs have never won at the Dean Smith Center. Since the building opened in 1986, the Cavaliers have gone 0-12 in road games against Carolina.
"We've never won in the Dean Dome, so we have a lot of bridges to cross before we think about the NCAA Tournament," Cav Coach Pete Gillen said.
Guard Adam Hall said the Jan. 18 victory will not necessarily make things easier for the Cavs to win Sunday.
"It's going to make it harder," Hall said. "They are going to feel they have to get this. It's going to be a packed crowd. It's going to be four o'clock. ESPN, ABC - everyone is going to be in it. It's a must win for them and a must win for us, so we've got to go up there and match their intensity.
"It's going to be a tough game because they've got [Senior Ed] Cota, a great guard, and they've got [freshman forward Joseph] Forte."
The Cavaliers' press defense could make it even harder for defenders to stay on Forte.
"If we run zone press, nobody is on Forte, so it's pretty much scramble defense," Hall said.
When Hall is on the bench, the man shadowing Forte may be another first year from the Washington, D.C. area, the Cavs' Roger Mason. The guard ranks second among Virginia first years at 7.8 points-per-game.
"It's going to be a battle like all ACC road games are," Mason said. "We really have to get down there and get a win."
After Forte, the Tar Heels' main weapon is center Brendan Haywood, who scored 20 points in the teams' first meeting with mostly dunks and shots near the basket. Virginia forwards Travis Watson and Stephane Dondon will face the difficult duty of keeping Haywood in check.
The Cavaliers will counter Carolina's interior strength with perimeter scoring from Hall, Mason and third year point guard Donald Hand, who is coming off 17 and 21-point outings in victories over N.C. State and Clemson, respectively. Hand will be called upon to continue his hot scoring streak as the Cavs try to extend their winning streak.
"Everybody on the team just wants to take it day by day, and once the game comes, we just want to think about that game instead of thinking further down the road," Hand said.