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Dec 8, 2001

Box Score | Video Highlights

AP Sports Writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Virginia is beginning to discover that life as a top team isn’t so easy.

Roger Mason scored 18 points and the eighth-ranked Cavaliers hit 11 straight late free throws to beat Auburn 77-72 on Saturday in the Arby’s Hardwood Classic.

“It was a giant win, beating a quality team,” coach Pete Gillen said. “People are excited to play Virginia now, and we have to understand that. We’re the hunted now.”

The Cavaliers (5-0) trailed 72-70 late, but held the Tigers (4-3) scoreless in the final two minutes. Auburn’s three losses have come by a combined seven points.

Virginia began pounding the ball inside in the second half, getting half of Auburn’s lineup in foul trouble and dominating the boards 42-25.

“The bottom line was they got to the foul line too many times and we didn’t rebound well enough,” Auburn coach Cliff Ellis said. “I want us to learn to dig out a game like this. We’ve got to concentrate on mental toughness because we’ll be in a lot of games like this.”

The Cavaliers got their most serious test after winning their first four games by an average of nearly 29 points. Mason made five straight free throws in the final three minutes, including a foul on a 3-point try, and had five assists.

Chris Williams had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Travis Watson added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Williams, a Birmingham native, was playing in front of a few dozen friends and family members. His 5-of-11 shooting wasn’t quite up to the 71-percent clip he had been averaging.

“It’s tough playing in front of your family and friends,” Williams said. “They all expect so much of you. But we came out with the victory and that’s all that matters.”

Auburn’s Brandon Robinson scored 15 points before fouling out. Derrick Bird added 14 points, Marquis Daniels 13 and Adam Harrington 10.

The Tigers took the lead with two minutes left on Daniels’ driving layup. Watson answered with a reverse layup and Harrington missed two straight 3-pointers, the last with 20 seconds left.

“We got lucky Harrington missed that,” Gillen said. “He’ll make that shot three out of four times.”

Mason, a 91 percent free-throw shooter, put it away with two free throws with 19 seconds left. The Cavaliers struggled from the line early, hitting just 10 of their first 22.

They made 11 straight over the final seven minutes before Watson missed on his second try at the end.

At one point, Auburn had four players pick up their third fouls in a two-minute stretch of the second half. Center Kyle Davis also fouled out.

Both teams briefly held seven-point leads in the first half. Virginia jumped ahead 12-5 before surrendering a 9-2 run.

The Tigers scored eight straight points and took a 27-20 lead on Harrington’s 3-pointer with eight minutes left.

Williams’ fast-break layup at the buzzer gave the Cavaliers a 40-37 halftime edge after shooting 57 percent.

It was the first meeting between the teams since Auburn’s 33-26 victory in the 1931 Southern Conference tournament.

UAB beat UNLV 74-68 in the first game of the Classic.

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