Virginia unleashed a basketball clinic upon the Memphis Tigers, turning an expected taut clash of contrasting styles into an NCAA tournament walkover Sunday night.
The deliberate, defensive-minded Cavaliers routed the fast-and-faster Tigers 78-60 – and as a bonus for the large and loud U.Va. crowd, they wore out the nets of PNC Arena as well.
The building morphed into a raucous orange-clad party as U.Va. shot 56 percent in the first half, when it ran away from Memphis to a 35-20 lead.
The Cavs followed with a 55 percent second half when they turned the Tigers (24-10) into tabbies, leading by as many as 27 points.
The blitz, following Friday’s scare against Coastal Carolina, earned U.Va. a berth in the East Region semifinals at New York’s Madison Square Garden this Friday.
The Cavs will meet fourth-seeded Michigan State. Tipoff is 9:57 p.m.
It will be Virginia’s first trip this far into the tournament since 1994-95. With two victories in New York, the Cavs will reach their first Final Four since ’84.
Continued shooting like Sunday’s could make that return a reality.
For the game, U.Va.’s 55.2 percent touch was its fourth-best in a season filled with dominant victories. The Cavaliers captured the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, with 12 of their 16 league victories coming by at least 10 points.
“For the most part I feel we did a good job imposing our will and dictating the pace of the game,” said U.Va.’s Joe Harris, who led five double-digit scorers with 16.
Anthony Gill had 13, and Mike Tobey 11 and Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson 10 apiece.
“We knew if we could make them guard and chase off the screens eventually they were going to wear down,” Harris said. “We did a good job of making everything tough on them. We really just have a lot of confidence in our ability to just outlast teams.”
A brilliant first-half eruption by U.Va. (30-6), which matched its school record for victories, blew open a game Memphis led 16-15 after 11 minutes. A jump shot by Tobey was the first salvo in a 20-4 run on which the Cavaliers, spreading the wealth as usual, closed the half.
As Memphis missed shots and turned it over, Harris followed with a jumper and Brogdon hit a pair of free throws. Next, in quick succession, came reason for the night’s biggest sustained thrill for U.Va.’s faithful.
Harris, who had nine first-half points, hit a 3-pointer. Then, with Memphis’ Nick King poised to hit a reverse layup, Gill rose from beneath the basket to swat it away.
That rejection triggered a transition that freshman point guard London Perrantes capped with a 3-pointer for a 27-18 lead with five minutes to go.
But the Cavs were only getting going. Baskets by Brogdon, Gill and two by Anderson closed the half, and they opened the second half by sinking 11 of their first 15 shots.
“We were confident going in, we had a good game plan,” Memphis guard Michael Dixon Jr. said. “But we didn’t convert a few times, we had some defensive breakdowns that were huge and they made us pay. We knew they weren’t going to beat themselves in this game, and we kind of did.”
On paper, Memphis presented the Cavs a particular challenge as one of the fastest teams they have played. The Tigers rank 35th in the country with 73 possessions per game, contrasted to U.Va.’s 62.
But that speed and pace flashed only in the opening minutes, although ominous signs appeared for Memphis. The Tigers missed 6 of their first 8 shots, including a pair of layups and a dunk.
“We got the jitters and stuff out in the first half of the last game,” said Perrantes. “We knew we’d come out and play our game today. We played 40 minutes of good ball, and we’re going to need that going forward. I’m glad that we got it.”
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