CHAPEL HILL, N.C., JAN. 16 -- Virginia knew when it walked into the Dean E. Smith Center tonight that it would have to play a perfect basketball game tonight to have any chance of upsetting second-ranked North Carolina.
For six minutes, the Cavaliers produced just that -- perfect basketball. They hit their first six shots of the game. But when perfection only produced a 12-12 tie, it was a signal Virginia was in for a long evening.
When the misses started, the rout was on. When it was over, Virginia had shot just 41 percent from the field and Carolina was the convincing 87-62 winner of a game that was over shortly after halftime. The Tar Heels (13-1 overall, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) got 23 points from Jeff Lebo and 19 from J.R. Reid as they won their 16th straight regular season conference game. Virginia (8-8, 1-2) was led by Mel Kennedy's 23 points.
"I thought during the first half we played about as well as we could have except for our rebounding," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "As for the second half, I really can't evaluate it. Whatever it was going on out there, it wasn't basketball."
Holland's reference was to the pushing, shoving and mouthing off that went on between the two teams as Carolina's margin continued to widen. There were several near-fights, Virgina assistant coach Dave Odom was called for a technical foul and the Cavaliers were called for three intentional fouls as the two teams continued their tradition of showing the bad blood that has existed between them for several years.
Finally, with 13:51 left in the game, and Carolina leading, 53-38, referee Dick Paparo called Holland and North Carolina Coach Dean Smith together and told them to calm their teams.That meeting resulted in a sharp exchange between Smith and Holland about which neither would comment after the game.
The Cavaliers made the game competitive for most of the first half. They took a 17-16 lead on Kennedy's three-point goal with 11:52 left. Three minutes later, Smith was uptight enough to draw a technical foul.
Smith, thinking a foul call had been missed as Reid drove the lane, showed remarkable flexibility for a man six weeks shy of 57, kicking his leg soccer-style well above his waist. That drew the technical from Paparo and, seconds later, when Kennedy hit from the base line, Virgina led, 21-20.
But that was the Cavaliers' last lead. Lebo made a three-pointer with 7:35 left to put Carolina ahead for good and the Tar Heels slowly built the lead to 38-30 by intermission. Virginia, meantime, slowly fell apart, missing 15 of its last 21 shots of the half after its sizzling start.
The game deteriorated quickly in the second half as Reid, quiet with only five points during the first 20 minutes, took over the inside, dominating one Virginia defender after another. His three-point play with 16:38 left widened the lead to 48-34 as Carolina opened the half with a 13-4 run that built the margin 53-34.
Smith, whose team shot 63 percent from the field, cleared his bench in the last four minutes, putting in his walk-ons, who mercifully ran out the clock.
"We played excellent defense on J.R. for a lot of the game," said Kennedy. "But what makes them a great team is that they have other guys who can hurt you. The second half, we just got to kind of playing spatter-ball. We were just running around out there with no purpose."
While the Cavaliers praised North Carolina's talent, they were not so complimentary when discussing its tactics.
"Lebo is a great player, but he was holding me all night," said point guard John Johnson, who shot three for 12 from the field while playing with a bad cold. "I was foolish to retaliate one time and got called for the intentional foul. That was dumb on my part, but I got frustrated."
Naturally, the Tar Heels had a different view.
"They like to push and shove a lot," Lebo said. "There was a lot of solid hitting going on out there. We knew they'd play that way. They teach principles of pushing and shoving, especially inside. They make you pay for everything you do."
In the end though, as is usually the case, Carolina's opponent paid.