North Carolina went to its four-corners offense with nearly 12 minutes to play and nursed what was then a two-point lead into a 66-57 victory over Virginia tonight.
The first half was a run-and-gun affair with the teams trading baskets, but the second half was cat and mouse with Virginia doing the chasing but never overtaking Carolina.
North Carolina had a six-point lead five minutes into the second half, but after Jeff Lamp cut it to two with a pair of jump shots, Carolina Coach Dean Smith called for the four corners. The Tar Heels were ahead, 44-42, with 11:45 to play at the time.
The strategy almost backfired. Carolina held the ball for a minute, then Rich Yonakor was tied up by Steve Castellan. With no jump balls after the one opening a game in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, it was Virginia's turn for possession.
The Cavaliers couldn't score, but Carolina again botched the four corners when Dudley Bradley double-dribbled.
This time Virginia cashed in with Lee Raker making a 22-footer to tie the score at 44 with 9:03 to play.
The four corners worked like a charm the rest of the way, though, and Carolina improved its season record to 20-4 and moved into a first-place tie with Duke in the ACC with an 8-2 conference record.
After Raker's tying basket, Dave Colescott penetrated from the four corners and passed off to Bradley for a dunk. Bradley was fouled, but missed the free throw. Carolina got the rebound and Al Wood scored to give the Tar Heels a 48-44 lead.
Terry Gates got Virginia back to within two on a tap-in with 3:45 left, but Wood's three-point play, followed by a driving layup by Colescott, suddenly gave Carolina a 53-46 lead and Virginia never recovered.
Carolina scored its next eight points from the foul line and was never again in danger.
"We decided to go to the four corners when we did because we were away from home and Virginia had been playing great ball," Smith said. "We were looking to get them into foul trouble with it. Also, they take Lamp out of the game for defensive reasons a lot when we are in it and then they can't always get him back when they have the ball."
This was the seventh straight time the fourth-ranked Tar Heels have beaten the Cavaliers.
Wood, who scored Carolina's last eight points of the first half, led the Tar Heels with 22 points. Lamp had 21 for Virginia, but the Cavaliers shot a lowly 41 percent in the second half.
Carolina, looking for the layups on the four corners, made 12 of 18 second-half shots and was 59 percent for the game.
The score was tied 13 times in the first half, and in one three-minute stretch the teams scored on 10 straight trips down the floor.
Virginia was the first to cool off, missing seven straight shots in five minutes after holding a 22-10 lead.
Carolina kept firing away and scored 10 straight points in that span. Wood and Colescott each had a pair of long jumpers.
Raker and Lamp found the range again after that and Lamp eventually tied the score at 30. It was knotted at 32 at intermission.