But the Hurricanes’ play in their last two games may have some wondering if the pressure of their recent success -- they were unranked when the month of January began -- may be getting to them.
They were pushed to the brink at Clemson Sunday evening, trailing by four points entering the final minute and escaping with a 45-43 win over the Tigers with the help of a somewhat controversial charging call in the final 12 seconds. (ESPN’s Jay Williams flatly stated it was a block and should have sent Clemson’s Rod Hall to the free throw line with his team down by a point. Of course, the way the Tigers shot free throws, making only 5 of 13, it might not have made any difference.)
Though they improved to 12-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, 21-3 overall, and ran their winning streak to 13 games, the Hurricanes were 25 points under their season average and shot only 34.6 percent from the field, their lowest since shooting only 33.8 percent against Indiana State on Christmas Day in their last loss.
The game before, the Hurricanes hit enough free throws in the closing seconds to hold off Florida State 74-68. There certainly was nothing wrong with their shooting against the Seminoles -- they shot 63.8 percent -- but their command of the game was somewhat tenuous until the very held.
They held only a three-point lead when FSU’s Ian Miller put what could have been a tying 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. It missed.
So, is new-found attention getting to be a distraction for the Hurricanes as they go for a school-record tying 14th consecutive victory when they host the Cavaliers.
No, forward Julian Gamble said Monday.
“I think we’ve been handling it well,” the sixth-year senior forward said. “I mean, I’ve heard a couple rumblings about people saying it’s been getting to our heads and we’re getting arrogant or cocky, but I don’t think that’s our approach at all.”
For that, he credits coach Jim Larranaga.
“I think we’re a very humble group on and off the court,” Gamble said, “and especially being around Coach L, he won’t let us us get to our head and us become big-headed at all because we know we have a lot more work to do.”
The closeness of the two road wins simply reinforces that last notion, Gamble said.
“Of course we go into every game wanting to win by a lot,” Gamble said, “but I don’t think that’s realistic at times. The ACC, there is so much parity in this league any team can beat any team on any given night. You see the Duke-Maryland game as an example of that.
“But especially on the road, all of these teams are really playing great at home. So it’s good that we have an opportunity to do this and really test ourselves both mentally and physically whether it be on the road or at home.”
The Virginia game will be a test in more ways than one.
Though the Cavaliers are coming off a 93-81 loss to North Carolina, they remain the stingiest team on defense in the ACC, holding opponents to an average of 54 points a game.
That’s No. 1.
No. 2 is the Hurricanes will have had little time to prepare for that defense with only about 49 hours passing from the final buzzer at Clemson to the 9 p.m. ET tipoff in Coral Gables.
“It’s the challenge that coaches have of trying to prepare their team when there’s a very short turnaround,” Larranaga said. “In this case we have one day of practice -- today -- and because of the game we played last night we know the guys need their rest.
“The most important thing you can do to get your team ready is to figure out a way to give them energy. I think recovering is very important part of your game. So we will practice, but it will be very brief today.
“It’s unfortunate because Virginia is such a good team.”