CHARLOTTESVILLE — Best versus weirdest. Such was the Monday matchup at John Paul Jones Arena.
The most talented and, perhaps by season's end, most accomplished of Tony Bennett's five teams at Virginia.
The most baffling and, perhaps by March, most mercurial of Roy Williams' 11 squads at North Carolina.
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John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville
Best won, and it wasn't close, as Virginia cruised to a 76-61 victory.
The Cavaliers (14-5, 5-1 ACC) led by as many as 23 points. They led for the final 25:30 and by double-digits for the final 19 minutes.
"This was a game I could down the list," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of his team's complete performance.
Indeed, you'd have better luck finding an all-night square dance party on Rugby Road than you would a Cavalier who played poorly.
Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson combined for 45 points. Akil Mitchell snared a game-high 11 rebounds. Freshman point guard London Perrantes contributed nine assists, eight points, two steals and superb defense on Marcus Paige (4-of-14 shooting). Oh, and reserve Anthony Gill had eight points and eight boards.
"We knew how talented (our) team was from the beginning," Mitchell said. "It (just) took us a while."
Since an oft-referenced 35-point flogging at Tennessee on Dec. 30, the Cavaliers have been consistently top-shelf, even in last Monday's setback at Duke. They have been their typical selves defensively and, most important come postseason, more balanced and powerful offensively, averaging 71.8 points in ACC play.
Harris has said the Knoxville nightmare reminded him and his teammates that they need to play within Bennett's structure, that they don't possess the raw talent to trade haymakers with conference rivals. Well, that might be true against elites such as Duke and Syracuse, but Virginia's collective ability should not be sold short.
"It puts so much pressure on the other team defensively," Mitchell said of the Cavaliers' balance.
Virginia is just better than North Carolina right now. Better on offense, better on defense. Better on the perimeter, better on the interior.
The Cavaliers closed the first half with a 12-2 binge during which they bared their defensive teeth to take a 38-29 lead. Carolina (11-7, 1-4) scored 21 points in the first 10 minutes, eight in the next 10.
Bennett said the Tar Heels "seduced" the Cavaliers into a NBA-like pace early, but Virginia quickly returned the game to its tempo.
By late January, the prevailing question among Tar Heels faithful isn't whether their crew will make the NCAA tournament, but rather how high a seed it will earn — Carolina has been a No. 1 regional seed nearly as many times (14) as Virginia has reached the field, period (17).
And with victories over Kentucky (home), Louisville (neutral) and Michigan State (road), this could have been a typical Tar Heels season.
Except North Carolina has several times resembled Shaquille O'Neal at the free-throw line, missing foul shots in bunches to squander near certain wins against less-skilled, though absolutely credible, opponents Belmont, Alabama Birmingham and Texas.
Except due to NCAA rules violations, Leslie McDonald missed the season's first nine games, and P.J. Hairston's college career was terminated. Hairston was the Tar Heels' best returning player, and McDonald was a high school All-American.
Except continued reporting on academic fraud at North Carolina, most by the Raleigh News & Observer and most involving athletes, has put coach Roy Williams on the defensive more than any opponent's full-court press.
Shaken by defeats and distractions, North Carolina then lost its first three ACC games — to Miami, Wake Forest and Syracuse. The latter, on the road to the nation's second-ranked team, can be excused quickly. The first two can not.
A game at JPJ didn't figure to cure what ails North Carolina. Piercing Virginia's defense almost always requires competent 3-point shooting, and the Tar Heels arrived in Charlottesville shooting 30.7 percent from beyond the arc, the worst in program history.
Monday they made 4-of-15 threes (26.7 percent). Monday they earned only 12 free throws to Virginia's 29, a reflection of aggression and confidence.
"Tony and his staff do a great job," said Williams, a Hall of Famer with two national titles on his resume. "They've gotten everybody to buy into a certain role, understanding how he wants them to play. He's done a much better job of that than I have."