Jay Bilas said a lot of smart things while calling the Pitt-Virginia ACC tournament semifinal game this afternoon on ESPN but none smarter this this:
"'If you didn’t like this game," he said seconds after the Virginia 51-48 win, "you don’t like basketball."
As regular readers might know, I don’t put much stock in conference tournament games, but this was a gem. It was a tribute to how the game should be played and a tribute to both teams. Unlike the Pitt-North Carolina game the day before, which had a playground-look for a large portion, this was textbook basketball. Almost every possession was fiercely contested.
The Panthers did themselves proud. There might not be much solace in defeat, but losing to the No. 6 team in the country on a neutral floor is nothing to be ashamed of.
The game was so close, the teams so even, that the fact Pitt was playing its third game in three days, and Virginia only its second in two days, could have been the difference.
Virginia's relentless defense gave Pitt no easy baskets and forced the Panthers into 37 percent shooting, which usually isn’t enough to win. Lamar Patterson made only 6 of 15 shots and just 2 of 8 from 3-point range.
It looked early like Talib Zanna was set for another monster game, but Virginia soon had him well-defensed, too. Still, he finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, both game highs. Zanna is a lock of the all-tournament team and certainly raised his profile with his performance in these three games.
Pitt got just four points from Cam Wright and a combined two from freshmen power forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis.
Virginia, playing its typical slow but efficient offense, converted on 47 percent of its field goal attempts, and that was the difference in the game.
Pitt is off until the NCAA tournament next week. But by most indications, the Panthers will be a 10-seed, which means they’ll be playing a seven-seed and be the likely underdog. If they play as well as they did against Virginia, an upset is certainly within reach.