GREENSBORO, N.C. — Maybe Virginia gets a stop. OK, given the Cavaliers' defense this season, there's no maybe. You'd cash out the mutual fund, empty the checking account and raid the kids' piggy banks to bet on U.Va. defending best when it mattered most.
Still, these were pressure free throws Saturday for Cavaliers reserve forward Anthony Gill. ACC tournament semifinals, 1-point lead over Pittsburgh, 8.5 seconds on the game clock.
An acclaimed transfer from South Carolina, Gill has become more active offensively of late. He's Virginia's most accurate shooter from the field, but entering Saturday, he had made a pedestrian 62.5 percent of his free throws.
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As a pure mathematical proposition, the chances of a 62.5-percent foul shooter making two straight are 39 percent. Now add the tension and fatigue of a rugged game with ACC championship implications.
"Take three dribbles and don't think about the rest," has become Gill's free-throw routine, and it worked perfectly Saturday when he made both ends of a one-and-one to account for the final points of a 51-48 victory that propels Virginia into Sunday's final against Duke.
"I was just thinking about it too much," Gill said of erratic foul shooting earlier this season. "When I go up there (now), I trust what I'm doing."
Justin Anderson's block of James Robinson's potential tying 3-pointer secured Saturday's win and again highlighted the Cavaliers' defensive excellence. But guarding with a 3-point lead is far easier than with a 1- or 2-point edge.
Gill has made 8-of-9 free throws in two tournament games this weekend, part of an offensive surge that elevates an already balanced team playing for the program's second ACC title — the first was in 1976.
Gill's 10 points in 25 minutes were his third consecutive double-figure scoring game, a first for him. He had 15 points in the regular-season finale at Maryland, an ACC-best 16 against Florida State in Friday's quarterfinals.
Add Gill's interior offense to Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Justin Anderson on the perimeter, and Virginia (27-6) becomes a true chore to defend. That offense has been invaluable with starting center Mike Tobey scoring four points or fewer in five of the last six games.
"I'm just trying to help my team as much as possible," Gill said. "If that means I have to go out and score double figures, that's what I'll do. Really, I'm just out there trying to play defense because I know that's what's going to help us win games."
Ah, defense. Always comes back to that at Virginia, doesn't it?
And defense was the reason Gill didn't contribute as quickly as most expected after he sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules and earned practice kudos as an effective low-post scorer.
"I didn't understand the pack-line too much," Gill said of coach Tony Bennett's defensive approach of crowding opponents inside the 3-point arc. "I'm still learning even now. It's difficult for anyone in their first year, just understanding the anticipation, where to be at what time."
Ironically, Gill said his defensive turn-around came at Tennessee, which just happens to be the depths of Virginia's season, an 87-52 loss in which the Vols shot 50 percent overall and 61.1 percent on 3-pointers.
But afterward, Bennett showed Gill tape that proved he was beginning to grasp the concepts.
"He still gets on me," Gill said with a smile, "just to get under my skin a little bit."
Gill graduated from Charlotte Christian School, where he was a teammate of Virginia forward Akil Mitchell, and grew up near High Point, about a 10-minute drive from Greensboro Coliseum. He's been inundated with ticket requests and text messages and happily provided Chamber of Commerce-caliber endorsements of his hometown to local reporters Saturday.
After averaging 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds as a freshman at South Carolina in 2012, Gill transferred to Virginia when the Gamecocks fired coach Darrin Horn. He's averaging 8.3 and 3.8 this season, and with two years of eligibility remaining, figures to become even more prominent on both ends of the floor.
The focus Sunday, as always for Virginia, will be the defensive end. Gill played only 10 minutes in the Cavaliers' 69-65 loss at Duke more than two months ago, but his upgraded D could be critical against a front line of Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson.
"We love these kinds of games," Gill said. "We're all about defense here at U.Va."