Virginia is off to its best start since Ralph Sampson was roaming the paint 30 years ago. To stay hot and potentially make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007, the 21st-ranked Cavaliers must find a way to do better in ACC games.
Virginia goes for a 12th consecutive victory when it hosts Miami on Saturday in the conference opener for both squads.
The Cavaliers (13-1) defeated LSU 57-52 on Monday to post their longest winning streak since opening the 1992-93 season with 11 straight wins. A victory over Miami will give the program its longest win streak since a 15-game run in 1981-82 during the Sampson era. That's also the last season which they started this well - that team opened 27-1 and finished with a school-record 30 wins.
Virginia pulled out the tough road win over LSU thanks to some clutch shooting by guards Sammy Zeglinski and Joe Harris, who both made 3-pointers in the final minutes to seal the victory. The Cavaliers gutted out a win over a Tigers team which defeated Marquette two weeks earlier in its only previous game against a ranked opponent.
"They are a similar team to us and this game was a difficult test for us," said senior forward Mike Scott, who averages team highs of 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. "I felt this game was like the start of ACC play."
While Virginia has started strong, conference play has doomed its NCAA tournament chances in recent years. The Cavaliers went 7-9 last season and haven't had a winning ACC record since 2006-07, also their last appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Miami (9-4) has contributed to Virginia's struggles, winning three in a row and six of the last seven in the series. The Hurricanes won both meetings last season in overtime, including a 69-62 victory in the ACC tournament that ended Virginia's season.
After struggling midway through the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Hurricanes closed it with four straight wins. During that streak, Miami has shot 56.0 percent from the field while averaging 88.0 points.
Kenny Kadji had career highs of 30 points and 12 rebounds in a 99-89 victory over North Carolina-Greensboro on Monday, though the Hurricanes had to overcome a seven-point deficit in the second half.
"We just wanted to stay in the game and stay focused," said Kadji, who scored 23 points in the first half. "You had to be mentally tough."
Miami finished 6-10 in the ACC last season, relegated to the NIT after an 11-3 start. The Hurricanes have been especially bad away from Miami, winning just seven of their last 27 on the road. The team is 1-3 in true road games this season.
The Hurricanes have lost seven in a row to ranked teams, including a 71-54 defeat to Memphis on Dec. 6.
This game features two of the ACC's top outside threats. Zeglinski and Malcolm Grant, who leads Miami with 14.5 points per game, has each made 29 3-pointers to tie for third in the conference.
Zeglinski is 23 of 48 (47.9 percent) from 3-point range since the start of December. The fifth-year senior hit four 3s for the second consecutive game Monday, finishing with 17 points after scoring 20 in a 57-50 win over Towson three days earlier.
"Sam has been there and done that. He has had such a good career here," Harris said. "... You can count on Sam to step up in crunch time."