The North Carolina-Virginia game Monday night was oddly compelling. The Tar Heels move so smoothly and so quickly that you expect them to score 90 or 100 points a night. They scored 100 or more five times this season, but not since January.
The Cavaliers play such a defensive style of basketball that you don’t expect them to score 100 points in a week.
Yet they scored enough. They beat North Carolina 53-43. Points were so tough to come by that if the referee fished the ball out of a peach basket it wouldn’t have been a surprise.
That Virginia wins is a testament to head coach Tony Bennett, the former Charlotte Hornets’ backup point guard. High school stars don’t watch the Cavaliers and say, “That’s how I want to play.” They say, “Grandpa, isn’t that how you and George Mikan played?”
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The Cavaliers have averaged 53.4 points their past five games, a figure that is inflated by a 70-point explosion against N.C. State.
But what Bennett does works. He is quietly charismatic, and he convinces recruits to see what he sees. Not everybody can or will play defense as thoroughly as Bennett demands. But he finds enough players who will.
If you can beat the talented Tar Heels by 10 points and force them to play your way, you did something. The Cavaliers did.