A headline in yesterday's Sports section should have said that Virginia lost a college basketball game to North Carolina by six points. (Published 2/16/88)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, FEB. 14 -- On the wall in the Virginia locker room there is a sign that reads, "Who will be standing at the end?" Today, the answer was North Carolina -- again.
When these two teams play, it is an appropriate question. Although the Tar Heels almost always win -- 13 of the last 14 -- the Cavaliers almost always scare Coach Dean Smith out of his cuff links and both teams walk away mumbling about dirty play.
Today was no different. North Carolina (18-3, 7-2 in the ACC) escaped University Hall with a bruising 64-58 victory, but only after trailing, 26-9, in the first half and 56-52, with less than four minutes to play. There were 40 fouls called and about 40 more not called as the players kept bouncing each other to the floor all afternoon.
"We've played better, we've played worse," Smith said. "The start was amazing. I'm just happy to get out of here with a win."
Smith's counterpart, Terry Holland, was much less happy, to put it mildly. He drew a technical foul from referee Tom Fraim with 15:10 to go in the game during a 36-second possession in which five fouls and the technical were called against the Cavaliers (12-12, 4-4).
"You have to hope that the referees are doing the very best job they can or you'll go insane," Holland said. "I really want to see the tape of this game. They just saw a different game. J.R. Reid is a fantastic player but you would hope that if he knocks your guy to the floor that sooner or later they'll call a foul on him."
Actually, Reid struggled today, shooting just three-for-17 from the floor. He did finish with 16 points, largely because he made 10 free throws, but his shooting was symptomatic as North Carolina shot just 40 percent for the game, its worst day of the season.
"We had good shots, especially me," Reid said. "I just wasn't getting them to drop, especially at the beginning."
The beginning will haunt Virginia for some time. The Cavaliers came out blazing, racing to leads of 18-3 and 26-9. But when Mel Kennedy threw in a three-pointer to give Virginia that 17-point margin with 8:34 left in the half, no one had any way of knowing that Virginia was about to go into reverse offensively. Kennedy did not score again. In fact, after scoring 26 points in 11:26, the Cavaliers scored just 32 points during the final 28:34.
North Carolina chipped back to within 33-25 by halftime and even though a drive by John Johnson (22 points) pushed the margin back to 44-33 with 13:12 left, the Tar Heels just kept coming.
"I don't know how many games I've seen where Carolina is losing the whole game and then at the end they get it together and win," said Johnson. "We're right there with them almost every time we play them but we just can't get it done. It's frustrating."
The most frustrating -- and crucial -- sequence was the six foul free-for-all. Both Kennedy and Bill Batts, who provide Virginia's inside offense, picked up their fourth fouls during that time and had to come out. With the two gone, North Carolina, even playing zone, was able to extend its defense to stop Virginia's perimeter shooters and the Cavaliers offense, except for Johnson, ground to a virtual stop.
The Cavaliers hit just seven of 28 from the field in the last 20 minutes. And yet, they still had a chance to win. Jeff Lebo (18 points) tied the game at 46-46 with 9:15 left and the Tar Heels led by two three times. But John Crotty hit his only field goal of the game, a three-pointer, to put Virginia back up at 53-52 with 6:34 left. With Reid continuing to miss, Virginia led, 56-52, with possession and less than four minutes to play.
But Johnson missed a jumper with 3:33 left and Ranzino Smith hit a left-handed hook to cut the margin to 56-54. Kennedy had a shot blocked by Scott Williams and Bucknall's layup tied the score at 2:15. Kennedy missed again (he was zero for eight in the second half) and Lebo coolly hit a 10-footer with 1:33 left for a 58-56 lead.
Virginia had one last chance to tie, but Kennedy missed the front end of a one-and-one with 65 seconds to play. North Carolina then spread the floor and Williams got open for a dunk that put the game away with 25 seconds left. In all, Virginia went 3:53 without scoring, missing five shots and three free throws after leading by four points.