March 12, 2015

Justin Anderson didn't contribute much in his return from a pair of injuries, but Virginia was able to grind out a victory in its typical style.

The third-ranked Cavaliers look to take another step closer to a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament and successful defense of their ACC tournament title Friday night when they face No. 19 North Carolina in the semifinals at Greensboro.

A fractured pinky and emergency appendectomy had sidelined Anderson - the team's second-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game - for the previous eight games as Virginia (29-2) defended its regular-season title. The junior guard played 12 minutes as a reserve in Thursday's 58-44 victory over Florida State, going 0 for 2 from the field while grabbing two rebounds, as the Cavaliers overcame a scoring drought of 4:40 midway through the second half to put away the Seminoles.

"I was thankful that he could be out there. Of course he looked rusty, of course, he's going to have certain things. But my hope is next time he's out there, he's better and you just kind of have to go through that," coach Tony Bennett said.

Malcolm Brogdon scored all 10 of his points in the final nine minutes, while Evan Nolte hit three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points. Brogdon and Anderson combined for 33 points in a 75-64 win at North Carolina on Feb. 2, and London Perrantes and Anthony Gill totaled 28 on 12-of-18 shooting as the Cavaliers scored 18 points off 13 turnovers.

Nolte making a significant contribution for a second straight game - he missed his only shot in three minutes at Chapel Hill - could go a long way in helping the Cavs return to the ACC tourney final.

"I don't try to pay attention too much from the 3-point line to be honest," said Nolte, who is 10 for 19 from beyond the arc in his last five games. "It was just in rhythm. People are in what we call the gaps, and they have to close out a little longer, and that's why I stepped back a little more and just let it go with confidence."

North Carolina (23-10) took a page from Virginia's playbook and clamped down defensively in the second half of a 70-60 win over 14th-ranked Louisville on Thursday. Brice Johnson scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, and the Tar Heels limited the Cardinals - who missed 15 of their last 17 shots - to 22.2 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes and 34.9 for the game.

''They manned up and decided to play better in the second half,'' coach Roy Williams said after unleashing a first-half tirade that Johnson said, "definitely challenged my manhood."

Johnson had 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in last month's loss to the Cavaliers, but it was the lack of urgency on the defensive end that irked Williams. Virginia shot 51.8 percent and converted two offensive rebounds in a 9-0 spurt that broke open the game, leaving the coach to bemoan that "I thought we could be the best rebounding team I've ever coached, and we haven't done that yet."

North Carolina enters this game with a 1-5 record against top 10 teams. It has struggled defensively in those matchups, allowing an average of 80.7 points on 47.2 percent shooting - well above its season marks of 67.8 and 39.3.

While the Tar Heels have not won the ACC tournament since 2008, they are seeking their fourth finals appearance in five years. Virginia has not been to back-to-back finals since 1982-83.

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