UNC boosts tourney hopes with win over Virginia

The Tar Heels picked up their first Quad I win of the season

UNC forward Pete Nance, right, shoots over Virginia forward Jayden Gardner during the Tar Heels’ win Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Chris Seward / (AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina found itself a spot on the NCAA Tournament bubble after a resume-boosting 71-63 win over Virginia at Smith Center on Saturday night.

The Tar Heels improved to 18-11 on the season, 10-8 in the ACC and, more importantly, posted their first Quad I win of the year. Carolina had been 0-9 in Quad I games — which are against the highest-rated opponents and have the biggest impact on the selection committee’s analytical models.

The win put UNC in position to play for an at-large bid in the tourney with one week to go in the regular season. Most prognosticators had UNC on the outside looking in entering this week, but a road win over Notre Dame followed with a wire-to-wire win over UVA offered a big boost to Carolina’s prospects.

“I thought Carolina was in desperation mode, and they made some tough plays,” said UVA coach Tony Bennett, who saw his No. 6-ranked Cavaliers fall. It was UNC’s first home win over a top-10 team since 2019.

The Tar Heels earned the win with hot outside shooting against the vaunted Virginia defense. Grad transfer Pete Nance had hit just 2 of 23 3-point shot attempts in February entering the game. He then opened against the Cavaliers with four straight 3s on his way to a game-high 22 points.

“Heading into this game, we talked yesterday and we said, ‘At the end of the day, we’re going to have to be able to knock down some perimeter jump shots,’” said UNC coach Hubert Davis. “It is what it is. Without us being able to shoot the ball from beyond the arc, it’s just not enough space for Armando (Bacot) to go to work, it’s not enough space for guys like RJ (Davis) and Caleb (Love) to be able to attack the basket consistently.”

Nance’s outside shooting opened things up.

“He started us off and he was really hot from 3, and I’m just really happy for him,” said Davis.

Davis was not happy with the team’s effort in the first half of the Notre Dame game earlier in the week, and he made no secret of that in practices leading up to Saturday.

“I thought they were locked in,” Davis said. “They had to be locked in because I was there (in their faces). I didn’t cool down, I was more motivated, more upset after Notre Dame today than I was right after the game. And regardless of what happened, there’s a level of competitiveness and fight that you have to have to play here. I told them that.”

The Tar Heels responded with their best 3-point shooting half of the season to open the game and held Virginia below 40% shooting on defense. Everything seems to be trending in the right direction for Carolina as an inconsistent season hits the home stretch.

“You know, two gutted-out wins going down to Florida State. We have a, I think, we’re in a better mindset, mind frame,” said RJ Davis. “We’re believing, we’re playing great basketball, we’re playing together, we’re sharing the basketball, knocking down shots. You know, we’re gonna keep this thing rolling.”

“I am pleased with the response,” Hubert Davis said, “but it’s not over yet. I’m still ticked off. And I told them to enjoy today and then let’s get after it tomorrow and prepare against a Florida State team that won at Miami today down by 25.”