Fast is to Tony Bennett what bacon-wrapped doughnuts are to Jillian Michaels. Virginia's third-year coach wants the pace methodical and disciplined.
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History says Bennett's Cavaliers will impose their tempo but that Williams' Tar Heels will adjust.
Virginia is second nationally to Wisconsin in scoring defense at 51.1 points per game. Seattle is the only opponent to exceed 61 — the Redhawks scored 77 — and 10 have failed to crack 50.
But none of Virginia's 23 previous opponents matches North Carolina's firepower. Led by Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson, the Tar Heels average a Division I-best 84.1 points per game.
Moreover, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall is on pace to break a 21-year-old ACC record for assists in a season. North Carolina State's Chris Corchiani averaged 9.6 in 1991; Marshall averages 9.8 and matched his career-high with 16 at Maryland last Saturday.
"If we don't get back and set our defense and don't get back in transition, they're going to end up winning by 30 points," Cavaliers point guard Jontel Evans said Friday as the team bus rolled toward Chapel Hill, N.C.
But in three previous encounters with Bennett, Williams' Tar Heels haven't approached Mach 1.
The first was in the 2008 NCAA East Regional semifinals in Charlotte, N.C. There North Carolina defeated Bennett's Washington State Cougars 68-47 en route to the Final Four. Limiting the Tar Heels to 20 points below their average was no consolation.
Bennett is 1-1 against North Carolina since arriving at Virginia. The Cavaliers lost at home last year 62-56 and won 75-60 at the Dean Dome two seasons ago.
"That was a down year for them," Evans said of the Tar Heels' 5-11 ACC finish in 2010. "They're a much, much, much better team."
Indeed, fifth-ranked North Carolina (20-4, 7-2 ACC) is vastly improved from two years ago. But so is No. 19 Virginia (19-4, 6-3)
In that 2010 victory, Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski made 5-of-8 threes and contributed 19 points, four assists and four steals in 27 minutes. Similar numbers Saturday would be an immeasurable boost given Zeglinski's recent slump — he's missed 30 of his last 40 from beyond the arc.
The Cavaliers also need post players Mike Scott, Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins to avoid foul trouble. And they need the 5-foot-11 Evans, their toughest perimeter defender, to slow Marshall, a 6-4 left-handed sophomore whom Evans first encountered in summer ball at age 9.
They were first rivals, then teammates on Boo Williams' 17-and-under elite traveling team. Evans hailed from Bethel High, Marshall from Bishop O'Connell in Northern Virginia.
"He's not the type of player who's going to dominate the game physically," Evans said. "He's going to dominate it mentally. He's the engine of their team.
"He kind of reminds me of Jason Kidd. He fills up the stat sheet. He can rebound, he obviously has all the assists, and he can score when his team needs him to."
Evans had one of his better games last season against North Carolina with 11 points, four assists, three rebounds, two steals and only one turnover in 32 minutes. Splitting time with Larry Drew II, Marshall played only 16 minutes, contributing five points and two assists.
But when Drew bolted the program at midseason, Marshall took control and helped the Tar Heels reach the East Regional final, where they lost to Kentucky.
Marshall had 14 points and eight assists against Duke on Wednesday. But his late turnover helped ignite a remarkable Blue Devils comeback that ended with Austin Rivers' 3-pointer at the buzzer giving Duke an 85-84 victory.
Relaxing after Virginia's 68-44 rout of Wake Forest that same evening, Evans watched the final 10 minutes of Duke-Carolina.
"It was crazy," he said. "I think that's going to fuel them even more. They want to prove something to themselves and to the conference."
David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP