Virginia is 1-0 against ranked opponents under head coach Tony Bennett, as the Cavaliers upset No. 24 UAB 72-63 tonight in John Paul Jones Arena. And while much of the game was led by UAB, who had led by as many as 8 points in the first half, it was Virginia who came out on top at the end of night, giving the 'Hoos a much-needed spark of contest before finishing out a four game homestand and heading into ACC play.
UAB (11-2) got just their second loss of the season after sneaking into the Top 25 for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The 'Hoos were just unable to stop Elijah Millsap, whose 17 first-half points tied a JPJA opponent record (fourth time an opponent scored 17 first half points). Millsap ended the night with 27.
But for those in attendance, the real spectacle came when Jerome Meyinsse was called for a foul, a foul that not a soul in the stadium could see, and certainly one that Bennett did not think was warranted. For the first time this season, the spirit of Dave Leitao graced us with his presence, as Bennett and company pitched quite the fit, one not exactly suitable for a family environment.
But unlike last season, when a fit led to a breakdown of epic proportions, Coach Bennett instructed his guys "to battle and use that energy to play position defense." And finally, the Wahoos listened.
Sammy Zeglinski made a 4-point play when he was fouled in the corner while hitting a 3 at the 7:17 mark
"You could kind of feel the momentum shifting our way," Zeglinski said.
Indeed, Virginia never trailed again.
After this game, fans on TheSabre and Twitter began asking themselves, how real is this team? How legit is this win? As you all know, I drink the orange kool-aid like the best of 'em, but I really do stick with my 8-8 ACC prediction from earlier this year.
A look at this squad's record (7-4) when considering how relatively weak our out-of-conference schedule was this year may suggest that I have ODed on the kool-aid once again. But consider the fact that three out of the four losses were by five points or less (5 to a very good Stanford squad that nearly beat Kentucky, 3 to Penn State and a buzzer-beating 1 to Auburn). I think this team could easily be a 10-1 squad right now. Further consider that tonight's 9-point victory was the only one this season that came in at double digits -- our wins are by an average of just over 19 points.
Watching these games, you can't help but like what you see. Our defense is looking sharp. After last night's game, Bennett couldn't help but be happy with what he saw.
"I can go down the list and it was a complete team effort," he said. "I like it that I think we won it with our defense in the second half, I’ll have to watch the tape, but that always makes me happy."
So what do you think, 'Hoos? Can Virginia make 8 ACC wins (and therefore, the tournament) this year? Six? Let's hear your comments.
Here are the box score statistics on the evening: