Virginia knocking on door for Final Four
CHICAGO (AP) Before every game, the door knocker comes out, and each of the Virginia Cavaliers takes a turn. While the swings are different for each player, the message is the same.
Just keep going.
''We don't want to take steps back,'' junior guard London Perrantes said Saturday. ''We want to keep on knocking until the door opens for us.''
The next door for the top-seeded Cavaliers (29-7) leads to the Final Four in Houston, but standing in the way is resurgent Syracuse (22-13) after a late slide almost led to another empty March for the Orange. With coach Jim Boeheim deftly pulling the right strings on his tricky, 2-3 matchup zone, 10th-seeded Syracuse is allowing 53.7 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
The Orange appeared to be in big trouble in the Midwest Regional semifinals against Gonzaga, but used their full-court pressure to rally for a 63-60 victory and an all-ACC rematch with Virginia on Sunday.
''They're a very disciplined team, and we've just got to be smart defensively and offensively, as well,'' said Michael Gbinije, who scored 20 points against the Bulldogs, including a go-ahead layup with 22 seconds left.
The Orange visited Virginia on Jan. 24, and the Cavaliers used a strong finish to secure a 73-65 victory. Syracuse trailed 49-48 with 5:58 to go before Malcolm Brogdon hit consecutive 3-pointers to help Virginia pull away.
The Cavaliers shot 56.8 percent from the field in their third consecutive victory against the Orange. It was the highest shooting percent against Syracuse since North Carolina State shot 57.7 percent in the Orange's 88-72 victory on Dec. 17, 2011.
''It's a good zone. You have to be able to attack it in different ways,'' Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. ''You have to knock down some shots. The ball has to move, you have to dent it off the dribble, get on the glass, different kinds of things.
''I just think I have the guys that have the right spacing and the right mindset, and these are the guys who have made the shots and made the plays.''
Mostly known for its defense since Bennett took over in 2009, Virginia is averaging 80.7 points and shooting 55.7 percent from the field in the NCAA Tournament. Led by Anthony Gill's 23 points, the Cavaliers placed four players in double figures in their 84-71 win against Iowa State in the regional semifinals.
''They have a very, very good defensive system, and they have a much better than people think offensive system, as well,'' Boeheim said, ''and that's why they've had the success they have.''
Here are a couple more things to watch when the Cavaliers and Orange play their third NCAA Tournament game in the series between the schools:
AT STAKE: Virginia is going for its third consecutive 30-win season and the school's third appearance in the Final Four. It also made it in 1981 and 1984.
Syracuse is trying for its first Final Four since 2013 and No. 6 overall. It also made it in 1975, 1987, 1996 and 2003.
GBINIJE VS. VIRGINIA: Gbinije also had four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots against Gonzaga. The graduate student, who is from Richmond, Virginia, leads the Orange with 17.8 points and 4.3 assists per game.
''I enjoy playing against teams from Virginia just because I'm from Virginia, and there's a sense of familiarity,'' said Gbinije, who scored 24 points in the January loss to the Cavaliers.
ACC POWER: The winner of Syracuse-Virginia will take on another school from the Atlantic Coast Conference in the Final Four. North Carolina meets Notre Dame in the East Regional final.
''You ask anybody, what's the toughest league in America? The one you're in,'' Bennett said. ''I think every coach says that. It's a statement that's kind of true. But this isn't a tiptoe league to use something we talked about yesterday. It's a big-boy league, and there's a few of those, and it's hard and it's a fine line between being in the upper echelon and not being there.''
WATCHING PERRANTES: Perrantes' play could be key against Syracuse's zone, and he has enjoyed success against the Orange in the past. The point guard has career averages of 10.7 points and 8.0 assists in three games against Boeheim's school.
''He does what they need him to do,'' Boeheim said. ''He's a very good defensive player. When he gets open shots, he makes them. He gets the ball to people - he's tough.''
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap