By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Joe Harris has had plenty of great days in his 22 years. Not many, though, can compare with his most recent Sunday.
He woke up that morning in Pittsburgh. He went to sleep that night in Charlottesville. In between, Harris helped the UVa men’s basketball team upset Pittsburgh 48-45 at the sold-out Petersen Events Center and watched his beloved Seattle Seahawks destroy Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“Sunday was an unbelievable day,” Harris, a senior guard from Chelan, Wash., said after practice Tuesday at John Paul Jones Arena.
Harris scored 11 points in the Cavaliers’ win over the Panthers, who were ranked No. 17 in last week’s USA Today coaches poll. Redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon delivered the coup de grace for UVa, hitting an NBA-length 3-pointer with four-tenths of a second remaining.
“That was the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve really had a game-winner, besides the Norfolk State game,” said Harris, referring to the 50-49 victory Virginia claimed during his freshman season on a tip-in by center Assane Sene with 4.8 seconds left.
“It seems like it’s happened to us so many times since I’ve been here, and then for us to finally get one, it was just unbelievable. It was such a hard-fought game, and for it to end like that was awesome.”
The Wahoos flew back to Charlottesville that afternoon, arriving in plenty of time for Harris to watch Seattle’s 43-8 romp in the Super Bowl.
“I just was on Cloud Nine, man, I was so happy,” Harris said. “I’ve been a Seahawks fan for a long time. So for us to finally get one was pretty cool. It was really special.”
This is fast becoming a special season for the ‘Hoos, too. They’ve won five straight games since their Jan. 13 loss at Duke, and they returned to the national rankings this week. Virginia is No. 20 in The Associated Press poll and No. 21 in the USA Today poll.
“I’ve been pleased with how [the players have] responded since the ACC season has started,” head coach Tony Bennett said Monday.
UVa’s challenge Wednesday night is to avoid a letdown. At 7 o’clock, Virginia (17-5, 8-1) hosts Boston College (6-15, 2-6) at JPJ. The Cavaliers are second in the ACC, behind the nation’s top-ranked team, Syracuse (22-0, 9-0), and the Eagles are tied for 13th.
Near the end of the 2012-13 regular season, the `Hoos upset No. 3 Duke 73-68 at JPJ, a victory that significantly enhanced their postseason résumé. Three days later, however, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Virginia lost 53-52 to a Boston College team that would finish the season with a losing record.
With 10:20 remaining, the `Hoos led by 11, but then they “just let it slide,” Harris recalled Tuesday. The game’s final points came on a trey by BC guard Joe Rahon with 8.2 seconds left.
The Cavaliers ended up in the NIT, in part because of their loss at Conte Forum.
“It really hurt our [NCAA] tournament chances after we’d come off a big win, so it was pretty deflating,” Harris said. “But I know that everybody’s hungry, really excited to play [Wednesday night]. Nobody’s gotten complacent, and I think that’s just a credit to our coaches, keeping our mindset right.”
Associate head coach Ritchie McKay prepared the scouting report on BC, which routed Virginia Tech 76-52 last Wednesday in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles are coming off an overtime loss at Notre Dame, which won on a last-second 3-pointer by senior guard Eric Atkins.
“Last year we won here against Duke, an emotional win, and we really thought we had it rolling, and then we went to Boston and got beat,” McKay said Monday. “So I think when you come off a big win like we did at Pitt to play a team like BC, we’ll see if we’ve grown from last year, because BC is capable of beating anyone in our league, and I mean that sincerely. This is a group that will challenge you every time they step on the floor.”
In two November games at Madison Square Garden, BC lost 72-70 to Connecticut and then beat Washington 89-78. More recently, the Eagles hammered the Hokies and then came agonizingly close to winning in South Bend.
“They’ve played 84 minutes, 59 seconds of pretty good basketball the last two games,” McKay said.
Harris said: “I don’t think their record is necessarily too indicative of how good a team they are.”
Guard Olivier Hanlan, who was the ACC’s freshman of the year in 2012-13, is back for BC, as are such players are junior forward Ryan Anderson, junior guard Lonnie Jackson, junior forward Eddie Odio and Rahon, a sophomore.
“Seems like those guys have been there forever,” Harris said.
Hanlan, a former UVa recruiting target, leads BC in scoring (17.9 ppg). He’s second on the team in assists.
“He’s involving his teammates more,” McKay said. “He’s always a threat on the floor to make a play for himself or his teammates. Again, [the Eagles are] a couple breaks away. They scheduled very difficultly for the non-conference to prepare themselves for the league, and this is a beast of a league. So when they didn’t get the wins that they deserved in the non-conference, maybe it broke their spirit a little bit. But it’s a group that’s capable of winning some games.”
The Cavaliers had their own problems in non-conference playing, losing four times. The last of those defeats came Dec. 30 in Knoxville, where Tennessee humbled UVa 87-52 in a nationally televised game.
“We’re experiencing the highs right now, but we’ve also experienced the lows, and we know that we ride a very fine line,” Harris said. “We can be very good, but we can also be very bad. I don’t think anybody will forget that. I don’t think anybody has forgotten the whupping that we experienced against Tennessee. I think that’s really helped us out here going forward.”
Will UVa’s coaching staff bring up last year’s loss at BC with the players?
“I don’t think with our group we need to,” McKay said. “They stay pretty true to the task at hand. Again, we’ve got room for improvement. As excited as we were to beat a great team like Pittsburgh on their own floor, I still think there’s things that we have to do to become the kind of team and kind of program that we want to be.”