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March 15, 2014

No. 6 Virginia holds off Pitt 51-48 in ACCs

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Virginia coach Tony Bennett keeps pushing his sixth-ranked Cavaliers for more in what is already the program’s best season in more than three decades.

Next up is the chance to do something that even Ralph Sampson couldn’t do: Win an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.

Anthony Gill hit two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to help Virginia hold off Pittsburgh 51-48 in Saturday’s semifinals, sending the Cavaliers to their first championship game in 20 years.

Virginia arrived in Greensboro with its first outright regular-season title since 1981 and only its second No. 1 seed. The Cavs have just one title: the 1976 championship led by tournament most valuable player Wally Walker.

“It would be great to put another banner and have that to share with them,” Bennett said. “Wally sent me a text: ‘We want some company.”’

The Cavaliers (27-6) didn’t have an easy time putting themselves in position for it, letting an eight-point lead slip all the way to one in the final seconds. But Gill, who was shooting 63 percent from the line, calmly made both free throws after James Robinson’s hanging layup that had made it 49-48.

Pitt had a chance to tie with 4 seconds left, but Justin Anderson tipped Robinson’s 3-pointer to Gill with 0.5 seconds left.

Joe Harris scored 12 points to lead the Cavaliers, who shot 47 percent against the fifth-seeded Panthers (25-9) to earn their first trip to the final since losing to North Carolina in Charlotte in 1994.

“There’s no better feeling, of course, but we’ll celebrate later,” Anderson said. “We’re to a point where we have a chance to make a run, not just in the ACC but the NCAA tournament, and we have to ... continue to be humble. This team cherishes that and this team understands that and we’ll be fine.”

Virginia, which has its best win total in 31 years, will face Duke today

Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna each scored 15 points to lead Pitt, which was in its first ACC tournament. The Panthers, who were going for their first appearance in a league tournament championship game since winning the Big East title in 2008, shot just 37 percent.

The teams met only once this year, when Malcom Brogdon hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in a 48-45 road win on Feb. 2. This one came down to another tight finish, though the Cavaliers kept the Panthers at arm’s distance for most of the final minutes and maintained a fragile hold on the game.

After trailing by eight, Pitt closed to within 47-44 and got a good look for the tie on Josh Newkirk’s 3-point attempt with 1:45 left, but never could level the game.

“Neither team really made that many mistakes,” Robinson said. “Every mistake that we did make, they capitalized on.”

Pitt got as close as 49-48 when Robinson stripped Brogdon and drove for a hanging layup over Akil Mitchell — hitting it through contact from Mitchell but with no whistle —with 10 seconds left to set up Gill’s big free throws.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon thought Robinson should’ve been going to the line to tie it, too.

“What can you do?” Dixon said. “We just watched it. Everybody saw it. I can’t comment on anything else besides that. I can’t state the obvious.”

Mitchell didn’t put up much of an argument, saying he was a little surprised there was no whistle.

“I wanted to contest it as best as I could,” he said. “I definitely didn’t want to foul. But, you know, they let it go.”

Virginia led 26-24 at the break and used a strong shooting start to the second half to finally build a working margin. The Cavaliers took their biggest lead on Gill’s hook shot to make it 45-37 with 9:30 left.

But the Cavaliers suddenly went cold, going 6 minutes without a point while the Panthers started inching back into the game.

Pitt opened its first ACC tournament with a 29-point romp against Wake Forest in Thursday’s first round. The Panthers then dominated No. 15 North Carolina for much of Friday’s quarterfinals, building a 20-point lead before having to hold off a frantic comeback attempt to reach the semifinals.

Pitt lasted the longest of the three new league members. Notre Dame was eliminated in the tournament’s first-round opener Wednesday, while N.C. State upset No. 11 Syracuse in Friday night’s quarterfinals.

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