With four games remaining and a half-game lead in the ACC, Virginia's chances for a first conference title since 2007 are gaining steam.
A home win Saturday over Notre Dame would get the 14th-ranked Cavaliers a game closer, as well as a school record for conference victories and their first 11-game ACC winning streak since 1981-82.The Cavaliers (22-5, 13-1) slid into the conference lead with top-ranked Syracuse's home loss to 7-win Boston College on Wednesday."Everybody's excited about it, tweeting about how we're No. 1 now (in the ACC), but let's remain level-headed and let's stay hungry for Notre Dame," swingman Justin Anderson told the school's official website.Virginia is beginning a three-game homestand that will continue against Miami on Wednesday and conclude with a potential conference title-deciding clash with Syracuse on March 1."You've got to understand that you've got to keep our goal in mind, and our goal is the NCAA tournament, our goal is to win games," forward Aki Mitchell said. "If you keep that at front of every practice, every day, you can't go astray."The Cavaliers had made climbing into first place possible with a 57-53 comeback win at Virginia Tech on Tuesday. They shot 39.2 percent and had to rally from 11 down in the second half but used a 24-6 run to match the 1980-81 Cavaliers with 13 ACC wins."I think we're resilient," Malcolm Brogdon said after scoring a team-high 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting. "Even if shots don't fall, we've gotten accustomed to winning. Therefore, we find ways to win."Brogdon averages a team-leading 12.3 points and has reached double figures in a career-best 14 consecutive games, but he's shooting 33.9 percent in the last five.The Cavaliers have gotten to this point with the top scoring defense in the country, allowing 55.5 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting, a scoring average they've actually reduced through 14 ACC games.Their last three contests have been decided by eight points or less."You're never out of it and this team has shown that this year," coach Tony Bennett said.There was no such drama the last time out against the Fighting Irish (14-13, 5-9) as Virginia won its sixth straight game in the series in the schools' first meeting as ACC foes. At South Bend on Jan. 28, the Cavaliers had their best shooting night in conference play, connecting on 53.8 percent on their way to a 68-53 victory.Brogdon had 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals while center Mike Tobey scored 14. No player had more than 10 points for Notre Dame, which turned the ball over a season-high 20 times."I think Notre Dame's improved," Bennett said. "... They're familiar with us, and I think when you beat a team, they're ready for you."Virginia was unranked at the time and just four games into its current streak, but Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey provided some foresight after the loss."(Virginia) might be the most confident team in the league, and they thoroughly beat us down tonight," Brey said.The Irish are 3-3 since then, and they'll try to complete a three-game road stretch with a winning record by upending the Cavaliers.To do so, they'll likely need a better offensive effort than they had in Wednesday's 71-64 loss at Miami. The Hurricanes shot 40.0 percent and fell to 0-7 when scoring less than 67 points.Pat Connaughton, averaging 19.5 points in his last two, scored a season-high 22 while freshman Demetrius Jackson added a career-high 17. Co-leading scorers Garrick Sherman and Eric Atkins (13.8) were held to a combined 12 points Wednesday, and that duo totaled 14 last month against the Cavaliers.