It took top-seeded Virginia less than four minutes to open up a double-digit lead on No. 4 seed Iowa State in the Midwest regional semifinal on Friday, and the Cavaliers never let up. Virginia held the high-powered Cyclones, who entered the game tied for second nationally at 86 points per game, to 15 points below their season average and cruised into its first Elite Eight since 1995 with an 84–71 win. The Cavaliers controlled the tempo and the game, never leading by fewer than eight points in the second half, and capped the game with four dunks, two each from Anthony Gill and Isaiah Wilkins, on fast breaks to put the game away.
Why it matters
Despite winning two ACC regular-season titles the past two years and entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 and No. 2 seed, respectively, the Cavaliers had not been able to get beyond the Sweet 16 in either season. Both years they were knocked out by Michigan State, in the Sweet 16 in 2014 and the Round of 32 last year. It looked like a third meeting with the Spartans would be in store when the brackets were released on Selection Sunday, but Michigan State, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest, was stunned by Middle Tennessee last Friday, appearing to clear a path to Houston for Virginia.
Tony Bennett’s team must take one more step, of course, but it showed on Friday that it is fully capable of doing just that. The Cavaliers shot 56.1% overall, assisted on 26 of their 33 made field goals and committed just seven turnovers. Staring guards Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Devon Hall combined for 21 assists and zero turnovers. Iowa State shot 51.9% but never threatened to reach its first Elite Eight since 2000. Senior Georges Niang had 30 points (11-for-20 FG) and eight rebounds in his final game for the Cyclones.
The Cavaliers will try to reach their first Final Four since 1984 when they take on the winner of the second Midwest regional Sweet 16 game between No. 10 Syracuse and No. 11 Gonzaga on Sunday.