Virginia pulls away to deny upset bid by Belmont in East region
Virginia entered the NCAA tournament having allowed just 50.8 points per game, so when it opened up a 51-37 lead against Belmont on Friday with 15 minutes to go, observers could have been forgiven for thinking the Cavaliers had the game well in hand. Instead, the 15th-seeded Bruins, fueled by the three-point shooting of Craig Bradshaw, came roaring back and cut their deficit to two with less than five minutes remaining before fading down the stretch of a 79-67 final that advanced UVa. to a Round of 32 matchup with Michigan State on Sunday.
Bradshaw made consecutive three-pointers to draw Belmont within 62-60 at the 4:36 mark, firing up an upset-hungry crowd in Charlotte. But Virginia, the No. 2 seed and the ACC regular season champion, responded by scoring the next nine points, three of which came on an Anthony Gill three-point lead, for a comfortable 11-point advantage with 1:32 remaining.
It was the Cavaliers' 30th victory of the season, matching their total from last season and the most in a single season in school history. The bigger news for Virginia might have been that junior guard Justin Anderson finally started looking like the star he was before being sidelined, first by a broken finger in early February and then by an appendectomy earlier this month. Anderson returned at last week's ACC tournament but didn't score in 26 minutes over two games. On Friday he had 15 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.
When Anderson went down, Malcolm Brogdon stepped up and regained the form that had made him an All-ACC first team pick last year, an honor he earned again this season. On Friday, Brogdon led all scorers with 22 points, an enticing glimpse into how good Virginia can be if both he and Anderson are playing at their best. Gill added 15 points for Virginia, which committed just seven turnovers and made 21-of-25 at the free throw line. Belmont, meanwhile, had 12 turnovers and had just six free throw attempts (making five).
Bradshaw led the Bruins with 25 points, making 10-of-19 from the floor and 5-of-9 form beyond the arc. Fellow guard Evan Bradds, with 10 points, was the only other Belmont player in double figures.