Virginia (19-4, 6-3 ACC) comes off a decisive 68-44 win against Wake Forest at home Wednesday. Senior forward Mike Scott was perfect from the field, shooting 9-of-9 on the night with 19 points and five rebounds. Five Cavaliers scored in double figures.
Virginia supplemented its hot offensive performance by showing the same stellar defensive effort which has been a trademark of the Cavaliers' winning formula all season. Virginia ranks second in the country after Tuesday's game with an average of 51.4 points allowed per game. That statistic trails only Wisconsin's 49.8 points per game benchmark. Only four opponents have attained the 60-point mark against the Cavaliers during the first 23 games.
"I thought we made it difficult for [Wake Forest] to get in the paint," senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "We did a good job closing out shooters. It definitely was tough on them. I think it tired them out to go through 30 seconds on the shot clock before they could get a shot."
North Carolina (20-4, 7-2 ACC) comes off arguably its most painful loss of the season. Wednesday evening a last-second three-pointer by freshman guard Austin Rivers shocked the Tar Heel faithful as No. 10 Duke stunned the Tar Heels on their home court, 85-84.
With disappointment still fresh in their minds, the Tar Heels will attempt to recover from their first loss of the season at the Dean Smith Center where previously this season they were 14-0.
Virginia, on the other hand, enters the game hoping to hand North Carolina a second consecutive loss.
"It's a huge game for us and we're excited to go down [to Chapel Hill]," sophomore guard Joe Harris said. "We have a huge challenge ahead of us."
Beating North Carolina, which ranks first nationally in points per game as well as rebounds per game, will be a tall task for Virginia. The Tar Heels' high-powered offense is led by sophomore forward Harrison Barnes, whose average of 17.7 points per game places him second in the ACC scoring race behind Maryland sophomore guard Terrell Stoglin. North Carolina play-making sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall leads the ACC with 9.8 assists per game and a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
While North Carolina generates many of its points in the open court, the Tar Heels also possess a potent tandem in the post with senior forward Tyler Zeller and junior forward John Henson. The 7-foot Zeller and 6-foot-11 Henson combine for an average of 29.8 points, 20 rebounds per game and 108 total blocks.
The Cavaliers believe they will face a tough battle against a Tar Heel team which is solid at both ends of the court.
"I remember both [Henson and Zeller] being long," Scott said. "[They] like to run and get out [and they're] very good defensive players so it's going to be a battle ... North Carolina's so good."
Virginia is past the midway point of its ACC schedule with the road only getting harder as the team approaches postseason play. The Cavaliers must play the Tar Heels twice, with the second game of the home-and-home series set for Feb. 25 in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers must be on their game every night from now until their final regular season game in early March if they hope to fulfill preseason predictions declaring the Cavaliers as the fourth-best team in the conference.
"In this league, you better be ready," coach Tony Bennett said. "I understand BC beat Florida State so, again, every game is tough. Going to North Carolina and teams coming up, we know what we have to do and we'll try to execute to the best of our abilities. They're great opportunities for us."
The Cavaliers also face Virginia Tech and Florida State, two teams which have already defeated Virginia this season.
A win Saturday would help Virginia keep pace with Duke, North Carolina and Florida State, who are all tied atop the ACC with matching 7-2 records.
"We're excited for the challenge, and we're going to need everybody to contribute," Harris said.
The game is slated for tip-off at 1 p.m.