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Jan. 21, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — There was a time when a home victory over North Carolina in men’s basketball would have sent UVa students rushing onto the court in celebration.

In Year 5 of Tony Bennett’s tenure as the Cavaliers’ head coach, things are different. UVa fans were delighted by what they saw Monday night at John Paul Jones Arena — a 76-61 victory for the home team — but not surprised.

Neither were the Wahoos, who improved to 14-5 overall. The `Hoos are 5-1 in the ACC — their best start in the conference since 1994-95 — and playing with supreme confidence and poise.

“They know who they are,” Carolina coach Roy Williams. “Tony Bennett has done a great job getting everyone into a certain role, and the players understand how he wants them to play. He has done a lot better of a job with that than I have.”

UNC dropped to 11-7 overall and 1-4 in the conference. The Tar Heels have wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky on their résumé, but they have been uncharacteristically vulnerable this season.

“We knew they were a very talented team,” UVa senior Joe Harris, “and no disrespect to them and their program or anything, but we expected to win coming into the game. We had prepared very well. We had a good game plan coming in. We knew that if we got them into a halfcourt game we were pretty confident about it.”

In a game ESPN carried on its Big Monday showcase, Harris hit his first three shots from the floor — all from beyond the 3-point arc — to stake Virginia to an early lead. Still, Bennett was uneasy for the game’s first 15 minutes.

The Heels “seduced us into a little faster game than we needed to be,” he said. “Then we got control of it at the end of the first half, defensively and offensively, and then played the second half the way we needed to play. I thought that was the difference.”

The crowd helped, Bennett noted. The game was the second in three days for Virginia (and for UNC), and “I thought we were a little fatigued early,” Bennett said. But the home fans were in full voice, and “I think that energized our guys,” he said.

So did a surge at the end of the opening half. With four minutes to play, it was a one-point game. But a dunk by Anthony Gill — off point guard London Perrantes’ eighth assist of the half — pushed UVa’s lead to 30-27, and then Akil Mitchell followed a Malcolm Brogdon miss with a one-handed slam.

After a UNC basket, Brogdon’s three-point play made it 35-29 at the 1:57 mark. Carolina’s next possession ended with a miss, and the `Hoos capitalized. Harris drove the right baseline and passed to Perrantes in the left corner. The 6-2 freshman buried the 3-pointer, and Virginia went into the break up nine.

Williams called Perrantes’ shot a “dagger,” and Virginia inflicted more pain after intermission. Six quick points by sophomore center Mike Tobey and a Brogdon trey helped the Cavaliers stretch their lead to 15 early in the second half, and Carolina never got closer than 11 in the final 17 minutes.

“A team with that type of background and winning culture, it’s always a good thing when you can pull out a win against them,” Brogdon said.

A 6-5 redshirt sophomore who plays both guard positions, Brogdon continued his recent run of stellar performances, totaling 16 points, six rebounds, three steals and an assist. But he was far from the only standout for UVa on Monday night.

“This was a game where I could go down the list and say, look, each guy gave us a great lift,” Bennett said.

Perrantes, who’s from Los Angeles, finished with nine assists, eight points, two steals and only one turnover. His career high in assists coming in was six.

“I gotta give that to my teammates,” Perrantes said. “They were knocking down shots and finishing. I didn’t know [about the nine assists] until after the fact, but I’m happy it helped us win the game.

For the season, Perrantes has 70 assists and only 23 turnovers. Not bad for a guy whom Pac-12 schools largely overlooked in recruiting.

“He has a calming effect on our guys,” said Bennett, who also praised Perrantes’ defense on UNC star Marcus Paige. “When the ball’s in his hand, he just doesn’t get sped up. He sees things that most guys don’t see. He was very complete. He was pretty good to start [the season], but I think with the experience of playing and being in these settings, he’s showing what a lot of people out West maybe missed on.”

The contributions of Mitchell, Gill, Harris and Justin Anderson were important, too, Monday night.

Mitchell grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, scored six points and followed Bennett’s instructions when UVa had the ball.

“I keep telling him, `Get on the glass, take what the defense gives you, get the X-factor baskets and plays,’ and that’s his game,” Bennett said. “That’s when he’s at his best.

“If he’s on the finishing end, great. When he’s trying to manufacture offense, that’s not where his strengths are. I really have been proud of how he’s fallen into his role and helped us and helped himself, and I like where he’s going.”

Anderson, a 6-6 sophomore who’s thriving as UVa’s sixth man, scored 13 points in only 21 minutes. Gill, a 6-8 redshirt sophomore, had eight points (on 4-for-5 shooting) and eight rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

“The last couple games he’s showed some nice things offensively,” Bennett said of Gill, who sat out last season after transferring to UVa from South Carolina. “He’s taking what the defense gives him. Instead of forcing the action and maybe trying to always draw contact, which he’s good at, he’s taking some of those perimeter shots, spinning off, getting on the glass. I thought this was one of the better games he’s played.”

Harris cooled off after his early barrage but still finished with 16 points. He added four assists and did not turn the ball over.

Joe Harris is a great player,” Williams said. “I love watching him play on TV — not when we’re playing against him.”

A first-team All-ACC selection in 2012-13, Harris remains the Cavaliers’ leading scorer (11.6 ppg), but he’s averaging fewer than eight field-goal attempts a game.

“Joe takes all the attention and makes it easier for everybody,” Brogdon said. “He makes it easier for our offense to flow, because he attracts so much attention.”

Asked about Harris, Bennett said it’s “rare to have a player of his caliber with his unselfishness, that really doesn’t care if he takes the shots or not … He’s unique that way, and that’s rare, to find that in today’s player, with his reputation what it is, and he’ll pass up shots and make the next pass. I just love that about him. It says a ton.”

Standing ovations from UVa fans marked the final minutes Monday night. One of the longest and loudest came at the 2:01 mark, when Harris, Mitchell and Brogdon headed to the bench. The Cavaliers’ margin of victory easily could have been greater, but they missed their final five three throws.

That hardly marred Virginia’s second straight victory over UNC in Charlottesville.

“Any time you have a chance to play well in a conference game and beat Carolina [it’s significant],” Bennett said. “I know they’ve been up and down, but with their talent it feels good.”

Since a horrific 35-point loss to Tennessee in Knoxville on Dec. 30, the `Hoos have won five of six, each time by at least 12 points. The only setback during that span was a 69-65 loss to No. 20 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

With every win, Brogdon said, “you just get more confident. You start believing that you’re as good as you can be, and you believe in your potential, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

Anderson said: “We never want to experience [again] what happened against Tennessee at Tennessee, and we’ll do whatever it takes to prevent that. We just want to make sure we follow Coach’s blueprint for success.”

UP NEXT: UVa concludes its three-game homestand Saturday against Virginia Tech at JPJ. The `Hoos host the Hokies (8-9, 1-4) at 3 p.m. in a game the ACC Network will televise.

Virginia leads the series 84-53. The Cavaliers have won three straight over the Hokies and five of their past six meetings.

Limited tickets are available for Saturday’s game, which is expected to sell out. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 800-542-8821 during weekday business hours, and at the JPJ box office on game day.

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