GREENSBORO, N.C. — A Virginia postseason that figures to extend deep into March — dare we mention April's Final Four? — began Friday with a convincing conquest of a talented and desperate opponent.
The Cavaliers' 64-51 dusting of Florida State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals at Greensboro Coliseum was far from their best outing of this memorable season. They committed more careless turnovers than usual, didn't shoot well from the perimeter and began the game like a team unaccustomed to tournament expectations.
"We looked shaky," coach Tony Bennett said.
But not for long. Indeed, for an ACC regular-season champion with corresponding aspirations, Friday was an ideal baptism to tournament time.
Job one was to reach the semifinals of this event for the first time since 1995, a baffling drought more frustrating to fans and administrators than to players unconcerned with history they had little or no part in authoring.
Also paramount were re-establishing the defensive toughness absent in Sunday's loss at Maryland and getting Joe Harris back into scoring mode.
The Cavaliers (26-6) accomplished all of the above to arrange a 1 p.m. Saturday semifinal against ACC newcomer Pittsburgh, which survived its own inept endgame and North Carolina's furious comeback to win Friday's second quarterfinal 80-75.
Virginia defeated the Panthers 48-45 on Super Bowl Sunday in the teams' lone regular-season meeting, a grind that bore no resemblance to last Sunday's 75-69 overtime setback at Maryland, which ended a 13-game Cavaliers' winning streak.
The loss "hurt," sixth man Justin Anderson said, "because we got beat defensively — a lot. … We wanted to get back to keeping people out of the paint, and I think we did a great job of doing that."
The numbers suggest as much. Virginia outscored Florida State 28-22 in the paint. Maryland won that rock fight Sunday 32-20.
"We practiced that all week," freshman point guard London Perrantes said of stopping dribble penetration and inside offense.
Seminoles forward Okaro White scored 17 points, but only four in the final 24 minutes. Boris Bojanovsky, a 7-foot-3 reserve who recorded his first career double-double Thursday against Maryland, had no points and one rebound.
Virginia's interior focus was most evident after Florida State (19-13 and facing an anxious Selection Sunday) snared the game's first five offensive rebounds. After that weak start, the Cavaliers outboarded the Seminoles on the offensive end 13-5, converting three with resounding dunks, two by Anthony Gill and one by Darion Atkins.
"I think once we cleaned up the defensive glass and got on the offensive glass, that really frustrated them and got us into our game and out of theirs," guard Malcolm Brogdon said.
Brogdon (six points on 2-of-10 shooting) did not score in double figures for the first time in an ACC contest this season, but his game-high nine rebounds were further evidence of the versatility that make him one of the conference's elite. Gill scored 16 points, an ACC-high for him, off the bench, while Anderson added his typical defensive flair plus three assists.
But the key was Harris, who closed the regular season in a 20-of-63 funk from the field. He matched his season-best with 20 points, shooting 7-of-12, the first time he has made more than half his attempts since Jan. 18, also against Florida State.
"If Joe's clicking, we've got so many options," Perrantes said, "so many weapons."
Such depth is invaluable during postseason, when quality teams have a way of denying your preferred options and forcing adjustments. And that's the overriding question about the Cavaliers: Do they possess the poise and confidence needed to adjust and thrive in March.
Until Friday, no one on the roster had won an ACC or NCAA tournament game. Which may help explain Bennett's approach Friday.
He was especially animated, jolted by a few odd whistles but mostly jazzed by the defensive intensity he craves so. When Anderson trapped White and caused a first-half traveling violation in front of the Cavaliers' bench, Bennett jumped, pumped his fist and applauded Anderson.
"Coach Bennett got hyped, too," Anderson said. "He was a player, a big-time player, so he understands what that emotion is like when you get everybody going."
If the Cavaliers get everyone going, what Bennett calls "contributions from the masses," there's no reason they can't win their first ACC tournament since 1976.