- - Friday, February 24, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — With three games remaining in the regular season, Virginia finds itself in solid position to make the NCAA tournament.The Cavaliers can’t coast, though, with all three games promising to be intense. Saturday afternoon is the biggest challenge of the bunch, with North Carolina paying a visit to John Paul Jones Arena.

“We’re locked in, alert and feeding off each other’s energy,” U.Va. guard Jontel Evans said. “I feel like we can hang with anybody in the country, but we have to finish strong. I think we need a couple more wins to change some people’s minds.”

Atoning for a loss to the Tar Heels is the top priority, and it’s no secret what needs to happen Saturday. North Carolina won 70-52 on Feb. 11 behind a 52-32 rebounding edge.

“We know what went wrong,” forward Mike Scott said. “They dominated us on the boards and our defense wasn’t really intense, so we’re definitely looking forward to the rematch.”

Evans echoed that, joking that the key to the game is boxing out, spelled in all capital letters.

However, the biggest advantage North Carolina has — more size across the board — is still very much in place.

Virginia also will struggle with depth issues as guard Malcolm Brogdon will be a game-time decision with a foot injury, and guard Joe Harris continues to adjust to having a brace on his left hand.

Forward Darion Atkins has been available to spell Mike Scott and Akil Mitchell, but the two starters have gone nearly wire-to-wire in recent weeks.

Still, the Cavaliers (21-6, 8-5 ACC) have only lost once at home this season and will have a sold-out crowd behind them.

A victory would clinch a much-needed bye at the ACC tournament in Atlanta, allowing Virginia to wait until Friday to start play.

Coach Tony Bennett isn’t thinking ahead to that, though, saying that he’s urging his team to “keep the blinders on” and focus on today’s game.

That focus includes a heavy emphasis on rebounding.

“It’s a big game for us and our crowd,” guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “We’ve got to be tougher. They kind of punked us a little bit on the glass [last time], so it’s going to be a collective five-man effort.”

Zeglinski was referring to the five men on the court, but with U.Va.’s depth where it is, that’s not too far from the overall truth.

How far the Cavaliers’ starting five goes will determine whether they can pull off a signature victory.

Read Michael Phillips’ blog at: https://www2.timesdispatch.com/list/sports-college-uva/

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