When North Carolina played Virginia at Charlottesville last month, the top-ranked Cavaliers overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and defeated the Tar Heels, 63-57.
"We played a good game that day, too," said Carolina Coach Dean Smith, whose team will entertain the undefeated Cavaliers tonight at 9 in Chapel Hill. "I guess it wasn't enough. It'll be difficult to play as well as we did that day again."
Virginia, ranked first nationally by the AP and second by UPI, has the nation's longest Division I winning streak, 23 games, and is 18-0 overall, 8-0 in the ACC. The 12th-ranked Tar Heels are 7-1 in the ACC and 16-4 overall. The game will not be televised in the Washington area.
If Smith sounds worried, he has reason to be. Although the Tar Heels have won six straight, they aren't playing as well as Smith would like. They struggled to beat N.C. State Saturday, 57-54.
Pete Budko was one reason Carolina played so well at Virginia.The 6-foot-9 Budko did a good job keeping the ball away from Virginia center Ralph Sampson. But Budko has a sore ankle and has been replaced by 6-9 Sam Perkins. Another Carolina starter, 6-9 James Worthy, is limping on a bad ankle but is expected to play.
"Right now, Virginia is playing real well," Smith said. "They handled Duke pretty easily. They have also gone with a smaller lineup lately and been successful with it. (Lee) Raker is playing well, too. I think he is very underrated."
Smith probably still has nightmares about Raker. The 6-5 forward took advantage of Carolina's sagging defense to score 16 second-half points in the comeback in that first game. Raker has been playing well lately, hitting 19 of his last 23 shots from the floor, and has raised his season average to 12.1. Sampson leads the team in scoring with 19.4 and in rebounding with 12.3. Jeff Lamp is averaging 17.4 points.
Carolina is led by 6-6 Al Wood (17.3). Perkins has played well since he has been starting, averaging 15.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. Worthy is next at 14.5 points and leads the team in rebounding with 8.4. Jimmy Black and Mike Pepper start in the back court.
The key to the game could be how well the Cavs handle the Black-Pepper duo, plus taller substitute guard Matt Doberty. Lamp and Jeff Jones usually start at guard for the Cavs. But Coach Terry Holland will probably move Lamp to forward and use a quicker combination of Ricky Stokes and Othell Wilson. Against Duke on Saturday, Wilson enjoyed his best game as a collegian.
"We know we have to keep pressure on their guards and not let them penetrate and score too much," said Wilson, a freshman. "Someone mentioned to me that Lamp and Raker have never won at Carmichael Auditorium in four years. We have to keep pressure on (Carolina) and not let the crowd intimidate us. If we let them get ahead and go to their four corners, it could be curtains for us."
Holland realizes his team can't afford to fall behind although the Cavs handled Duke's slowdown tactics very well Saturday.
"We played well in stretches against Duke, particularly when they tried to hold onto the ball," Holland said. "Right now, both North Carolina and we are playing real well. They controlled the game about 35 minutes the first time and, fortunately, we were able to come back and win. Like all the ACC games, this one seems to be another must-win game."