GREENSBORO, N.C. — Virginia coach Tony Bennett keeps pushing his sixth-ranked Cavaliers for more in what is already the program’s best season in more than three decades.
Next up is the chance to do something that even Ralph Sampson couldn’t do: Win an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.
Anthony Gill hit two free throws with 8.5 seconds left to help Virginia hold off Pittsburgh 51-48 in Saturday’s semifinals, sending the Cavaliers to their first championship game in 20 years.
Virginia arrived in Greensboro with its first outright regular-season title since 1981 and only its second No. 1 seed. The Cavs have just one title: the 1976 championship led by tournament most valuable player Wally Walker.
“It would be great to put another banner and have that to share with them,” Bennett said. “Wally sent me a text: ‘We want some company.’”
The Cavaliers (27-6) didn’t have an easy time putting themselves in position for it, letting an eight-point lead slip all the way to one in the final seconds. But Gill, who was shooting 63 percent from the line, calmly made both free throws after James Robinson’s hanging layup that had made it 49-48.
Pitt had a chance to tie with 4 seconds left, but Justin Anderson tipped Robinson’s 3-pointer to Gill with 0.5 seconds left.
Joe Harris scored 12 points to lead the Cavaliers, who shot 47 percent against the fifth-seeded Panthers (25-9) to earn their first trip to the final since losing to North Carolina in 1994.
“There’s no better feeling, of course, but we’ll celebrate later,” Anderson said. “We’re to a point where we have a chance to make a run, not just in the ACC but the NCAA tournament, and we have to ... continue to be humble.”
NO. 7 DUKE 75, NORTH CAROLINA STATE 67
Jabari Parker scored 20 points and Duke beat North Carolina State in a semifinal.
Rasheed Sulaimon added 16 points for the third-seeded Blue Devils (26-7) while Rodney Hood had 14 points and keyed the defensive effort against ACC player of the year T.J. Warren.
Duke earned its 31st championship game appearance and first since 2011.
Duke’s 69-65 win in January stood as the Cavaliers’ lone conference loss until Maryland beat them last week.
Warren scored 21 points but was just 4 of 13 after halftime while facing a barrage of double teams.
The Wolfpack (21-13), playing their third game in three days, shot just 36 percent in the second half – after hitting 67 percent in the opening half – and were denied their first title game berth since 2007.