CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia point guard London Perrantes had almost blocked the nightmare from his mind.
Then when he was reminded about the Cavaliers’ collapse against Syracuse last year — ninth-ranked Virginia’s opponent on Saturday — the bad memories came flooding back.
“I haven’t thought about it until you brought it up right now, and now my heart’s pounding,” the Cavaliers’ lone senior said, the question earlier this week interrupting his celebration of a victory against state rival Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers (17-4, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) meet the Orange (14-9, 6-4) Saturday at noon.
Virginia’s last meeting with Jim Boeheim’s team came in the Elite Eight last season, and on a night when Perrantes set a school NCAA Tournament record with six 3-pointers, the Cavaliers led by 16 in the second half before crumbling in the face of amped-up defensive pressure as Syracuse rallied for a crushing 68-62 victory .
The top-seeded Cavaliers were vying for their first trip to the Final Four since 1984. Instead, the 10-seeded Orange, an NCAA Tournament bubble team, became just the fourth double-digit seed to reach the semifinals.
The loss left Perrantes sitting alone, his head buried in his hands, wiping away tears.
“Yeah, I mean obviously, it hits home,” he said. “We were so close to getting to the Final Four and now, we go back to that opponent in their place. I’m excited. I’m trying to get this bad taste out of my mouth still. Maybe this will help, but I don’t think it will. It’s just another game, really, as hard as it is to say.”
These Cavaliers are once again in the thick of the ACC regular season race, trailing No. 12 North Carolina by a half game for the top spot. The Orange, meanwhile, are badly in need of some credential-boosting victories. They are also coming off another second-half rally from 16 down. They won at N.C. State, 100-93, in overtime Wednesday .
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett joked Wednesday night about having a flash-back at the mention of last season’s final game — “I’ve done a lot of therapy and I’m over that,” he said, laughing. Then the coach got serious and cautioned against focusing on avenging that loss rather than preparing for the challenge of Syracuse’s unique style.
“When you go back, that was a terrific opportunity, but we’re such a different team,” he said. “That was a beautiful season last year and we knocked on the door of the Final Four. Didn’t get there. They’re a different team, we’re a different team and you’ve got to go in there and play. We’re in a race. We’re fighting to be as good as we can every game, so probably when I watch some tapes and see some things because I always try to watch matchups last year, I’m sure I’ll see some things and be like, ‘Ah!’ Painful at times but I haven’t really thought about that.”
Despite the abrupt end to last season, the team tied the school record for victories in a four-year period with 112, and this group, led by Perrantes, has 106 wins and would have to falter badly not to eclipse that mark.
It’s why, Virginia’s unquestioned leader said, dwelling on the past isn’t a winning strategy.
“It’s just another game,” Perrantes said.
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