COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)—One hundred and twenty-one.
The big number, the historic number, was still rattling around the rafters of Nationwide Arena a day after Tennessee put it on the scoreboard. The Volunteers tied their school record for points in a game and the NCAA record for first-round scoring with one amazing display.
Tennessee 121, Long Beach State 86.
“We got to the century mark and it was, ‘Wow,”’ coach Bruce Pearl said Saturday, still amazed by what he saw.
The team that gets to defend them next had a much different reaction.
Instead of a wide-eyed wow, it was a shrug and a “whatever.”
Virginia watched the first half of that game in person, then caught the ending on television back at the team’s hotel. While the audience and the announcers marveled at the nonstop offense, the Cavaliers were a little more … well, cavalier.
“They got 121 because there wasn’t any resistance at all,” sniffed guard Sean Singletary. “Tomorrow is going to be a different story. There’s going to be resistance.”
For anyone who likes offense, this one will be hard to resist.
Fourth-seeded Virginia (21-10) has the guards to navigate through the Volunteers’ press and the shooters to keep up with any number that shows up on the other side of the scoreboard.
Tennessee (23-10), the fifth seed in the South Regional, has the press to create easy baskets and the 3-point shooters to make any defense feel overwhelmed.
Their second-round matchup on Sunday could be a lot of fun for the team with the ball.
“We know we’re not going to score 121 points tomorrow,” Tennessee guard Chris Lofton said. “We’ve got to come in with the same attitude of pushing the pace and trying to get open looks.”
It’ll be one of those breakthrough games for the team that scores more. The winner advances to San Antonio, Texas, to play No. 1 seed Ohio State on Thursday.
Neither team has been to the round of 16 in some time. Both are trying to get back under second-year coaches with Massachusetts roots who have quickly revived their programs.
Pearl took over at Tennessee last season and led the Volunteers to 22 wins and the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Wichita State. Tennessee hasn’t reached the round of 16 since 2000.
Dave Leitao has made a quick turnaround of his own at Virginia, which made only one NCAA tournament appearance during Pete Gillen’s seven seasons. An 84-57 victory over Albany in the first round represented the Cavaliers’ first NCAA tournament win since 1995, when they reached the final eight.
The coaches’ paths have many parallels, but have never crossed. They were born the same year—Pearl on March 18, 1960, Leitao exactly two months later. Pearl grew up in Boston and started his coaching career as a student assistant at his alma mater, Boston College. Leitao grew up in New Bedford, Mass., and started as an assistant at his alma mater of Northeastern.
“He was a good player and I wasn’t,” Pearl said, summing up their most pronounced difference. “Dave did it as a player, and I did it in whatever-in-the-world you want to call it.”
With such similar basketball roots, it’s no surprise that their teams have similar styles.
“We have two teams that somewhat look alike, in that we’re not real overly imposing in the front court and have really good backcourt play,” Leitao said.
In that respect, Virginia has the edge.
The Cavaliers’ biggest question coming into the tournament was how shooting guard J.R. Reynolds would hold up. The 6-foot-2 senior hurt his hip during the season, an injury that threw off his shot.
In Virginia’s last three games before the tournament, Reynolds went 9-for-44 from the field. The Cavaliers lost two of those three.
Reynolds looked fine—no, make that fantastic—in the opening-round win over Albany, making his first seven shots on the way to 28 points. Singletary added 23 points and nine assists, the fourth time this season the two guards scored 20 apiece.
Few teams tried to press Virginia during the regular season because their guards are so good. Tennessee is probably going to chance it.
“Those guys are just going to get it and go,” Pearl said. “They’re going to be a tough team for us to press, but it’s part of our identity. We’re going to try to press, but we don’t know how effective it’s going to be. They’ve got two NBA guards out there on the floor.”
Two guards who are determined there won’t be any more big numbers.
“We’re not really concerned because we play defense and it’s not going to be a shootout,” Singletary said, with an edge to his voice.