Seeking redemption, Virginia readies for Gardner-Webb

Over a year removed from being the first No. 1 seed ever to be upset by a 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Virginia is back dancing -- as a top seed once again.

For the fourth time in the last six seasons and the seventh time in school history, the Cavaliers are a No. 1 seed in the "Big Dance" and will face South Region No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb on Friday in the opening round at Columbia, S.C.

"Everyone can play in this tournament. To be a No. 1 seed means it's been a heck of a season," Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said after leading the Cavaliers to their sixth straight tournament appearance. "It doesn't guarantee anything, as we know."

Joining Virginia (29-3), Duke and North Carolina also earned No. 1 seeds, as the Atlantic Coast Conference became the first conference since the Big East in 2009 to earn three top seeds.

Gardner-Webb (23-11) upset Radford in last week's Big South tournament title game to earn the first NCAA Tournament berth in school history after fully joining the ranks of Division I teams back in 2002. Despite a lack of tournament experience, the Bulldogs make up for it with a veteran-laden crew.

"Scary, scary," Gardner-Webb head coach Tim Craft said about playing one of the nation's best teams. "But I will say, we're kind of used to being the underdog here, and we were picked sixth in our league and then won our league."

The Bulldogs have won five games in a row and eight of their last nine, helping erase memories of an 0-3 start. One of those losses was to Virginia's rival, Virginia Tech, but Gardner-Webb beat the other two ACC teams it faced this season, knocking off Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

"Our guys will go in and play with confidence, and I think that's the key," Craft added. "We've got to be loose and confident to even have a chance."

Virginia isn't looking past any opponent and knows it will get the Bulldogs' best shot, as all eyes will be on the Cavaliers' redemption quest.

After falling to Florida State 69-59 in last week's ACC tournament semifinals, the Cavaliers will have almost a full week to rest and prepare as they are arguably the healthiest they've been in postseason play under Bennett.

"We played a Florida State team that played really well, and we didn't play our best," Bennett said. "There are some areas we think we need to continue to get better in."

The Cavaliers' offense is the most efficient it has been in years, led by Kyle Guy's 15.6 points per game. Guy and the Virginia offense have averaged 71.8 points per contest this season and had made 54.2 percent of 3-pointers over their previous five games before the loss to the Seminoles.

Gardner-Webb's offense is led by a pair of career 1,000-point scorers in David Efianayi (18.7 points per game) and D.J. Laster (13.7) and freshman guard Jose Perez (15.1).

The winner will advance to the play Sunday against the either No. 8 Ole Miss or No. 9 Oklahoma.

--Field Level Media

Copyright 2019 by STATS. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.

Our Latest Stories