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Men's basketball kicks off ACC run against Wolfpack

The Cavaliers hope to ride the wave of Saturday's overtime upset of Maryland as they prepare for a first-round ACC Tournament matchup with N.C. State tomorrow at 7 p.m.

After finishing last in the Conference the past two years, Virginia (19-10, 9-7 ACC) earned the third seed in the tourney this season. The Wolfpack (16-11, 6-10) finished sixth in the league, slipping in the Conference standings after a brief midseason stint in the national Top 25.

The squads split their regular season series this year, with each team winning on its home court. The 'Pack won the Jan. 12 contest in Raleigh behind the superb play of freshman forward Damien Wilkins, who notched 13 points and nine rebounds. The Cavaliers mounted a valiant comeback effort but went cold down the stretch, scoring just one point in the final two minutes in a 65-62 loss.

Virginia evened the season series when it emerged victorious a month later in an 88-82 triumph at University Hall. Freshman big man Travis Watson paced Virginia with a career-high 20 points while tallying 12 rebounds. Junior point guard Donald Hand scored all of his 17 points after halftime and fueled a 56-point Cav outburst in the second half.

"Donald Hand is one of the best guards in our league and in the country," N.C. State Coach Herb Sendek said. "Everybody that plays Virginia is aware of that and realizes how important he is to their success."

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  • "Travis Watson's had a remarkable first year," Sendek said. "I think he's been absolutely outstanding. He was good early and he's even better now. He's been one of the best freshmen I've seen since I've been in the league."

    The possible absence of injured N.C. State guard Marshall Williams is just one reason the Cavs have confidence they will fare well in the ACC tourney and will be invited to the NCAA Tournament.

    "I think we can go as far as we take ourselves," freshman point guard Majestic Mapp said. "If we come ready to play every night, [we can] hopefully take the ACC Tournament, get to the NCAA Tournament and make some noise there. We want to put Virginia back on its bigtime ways."

    Virginia Coach Pete Gillen is cautiously optimistic as well. Last season, his undermanned Cavs got bludgeoned by the Duke juggernaut in the first round, but he will not be forced to call on his walk-ons, as he was so many times last year.

    "We have a chance," Gillen said. "At least we have enough soldiers to fight in the battle"

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