After the wild final seconds of celebration were over, after the Virginia players knew they'd thoroughly beaten one of the finest of North Carolina's great basketball teams, the Cavaliers had to temper their pleasure with a mild surprise.
It's not often that anyone truly controls one of Dean Smith's vintage Tar Heel teams, gives them an old-fashioned licking. But that's what happened here in whoopin' and wahooin' University Hall tonight, as the Cavaliers scored a resounding 74-58 victory that put them in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We controlled the game from the beginning," said sophomore guard Othell Wilson, whose game-high 20 points (tying a career high) helped the No. 3-ranked Wahoos hold No. 2 Carolina at arm's length for 40 shockingly one-sided minutes.
"Last time we played them (a 65-60 victory by UNC in Chapel Hill on Jan. 9), we controlled most of the game, then we came unglued at the end," added Wilson, recalling how the Cavaliers (21-1, 7-1) squandered their nine-point lead in the second half in their only defeat of this season of overachievment.
"Here at home, we wanted to prove to everybody that we could beat them," said Wilson, whose defensive quickness contributed mightily to a two-for-10 shooting night by Carolina's woebegone point guard, Jimmy Black.
"Both the team and I are getting better every year, and every day," said 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, whose play lived up to his word as Virginia player of the game. Sampson had 18 points on eight-for-10 shooting, plus a game-high 12 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots in which he seemed to have been dropped from the space shuttle.
"I guess the revenge thing had something to do with it . . . for all of us," said junior forward Craig Robinson, who played one of the best games of his career. He outscored all-America forward James Worthy, 14 to 10, including 10 points in the final 6:33 as Virginia expanded its slightly precarious 57-50 lead.
Robinson played one of the most authoritative games of his sometimes disappointing career, constantly playing "Let's Get Physical" with Worthy, who occasionally seemed unworthy of the task. Holland, according to Robinson, told the 6-8 power forward that "Worthy doesn't like to be touched." Tonight, he was touched more than if he'd been at an EST seminar.
This evening's work--in which Virginia led by 15 at half, and pushed that margin to 17 before Carolina (16-2, 7-2) began a poised rally--was a tactical victory for Cavalier Coach Terry Holland.
Holland anticipated that Smith would reverse his successful strategy of 24 days ago by playing Sampson honest (thus allowing him 30 points), while applying constant pressure on Virginia's guards at the perimeter.
"They play soft on the perimeter on the road and see if you hit your first few shots. Then, they apply pressure (only) in spots," said Holland.
That was a precise reading of Smith's plans. The Cavaliers were tactically prepared for a different style. "(In Chapel Hill), Ralph proved that he could score," said Wilson. "We didn't prove that we could score. If we didn't hit outside, they would just lay on Ralph (inside) the whole game."
So, with the Cavalier faithful making a beautiful din and dither worthy of any bandbox, it was the Carolina guards who felt themselves under attack more often than the Virginia back court. Often, freshman guard Mike Jordan (17 points) and 6-9 center Sam Perkins (16) had to shoot from very unCarolina-like distances of 20 feet or more just to get off an unguarded shot.
Smith was upset throughout this game, in which his club attempted five free throws to Virginia's 16.
"If we had known they (the officials) were going to let everything go, we'd have played a different game," said Smith.
Virginia, which moved ahead by 25-13 and never led by fewer than seven thereafter, had one moment of mild heart flutters.
First, Carolina scored four straight baskets to get to 49-40 with 13:08 to play. Holland called time and ordered a steady diet of passes to Sampson. He responded with a soft 10-foot turnaround jumper, a wondrous up-from-under reverse dunk over Perkins that looked like Moby Dick swimming under the Pequod, then spouting on the other side, then finally a dunk off a lob pass to make the margin 57-42.
For Virginia, which has won 29 in a row at home and leads Carolina by a half-game in the conference, this was a partial revenge for last season. Then, Virginia swept the season series from UNC for the first time since 1920, making two dramatic comebacks from 13 and 16 points down in the second half. However, when it mattered most, in the semifinals of the NCAA, Carolina, as it so often does when the stakes are highest, won with almost contemptuous ease.
On this misty, foggy night in the Charlottesville hills, Virginia thumped Carolina as though names such as Perkins and Worthy meant little.
Fans in University Hall celebrated tonight as though something of lasting significance had been won. Smith and Holland knew better.
"We may meet again," said Smith, alluding to the ACC and NCAA tournaments--times and places with a significance that will make this night seem remote and small.