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Volunteers knock out Virginia, advance to Sweet 16

JOE KAY • Mar 19, 2007 at 12:57 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Go ahead, Tennessee fans. Break out the orange paint and slather up.

It sure seems to work for the head coach.

JaJuan Smith led a second-half comeback, Chris Lofton made one free throw after another in the final seconds and the Volunteers held off Virginia 77-74 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Fifth-seeded Tennessee (24-10) reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2000 under second-year coach Bruce Pearl, who doffed his shirt and painted himself orange before a Lady Vols game last month to show some spirit.

Now, his team is showing some staying power.

"When you reach the Sweet 16 at the University of Tennessee with the way we've had to rebuild, you've made a special place in history for yourself," point guard Dane Bradshaw said.

A certain shade of history, no less.

The sight of Pearl's brightly colored belly during one of the Lady Vols' January games was shown repeatedly on basketball highlight shows, bringing him some grief.

On Sunday, Pearl wore a conservative white shirt and did some of his most creative coaching, bringing down a Virginia team that couldn't get one more basket out of its fabulous guard tandem.

Point guard Sean Singletary missed an open 3-pointer with one second left, then slumped and rested his forehead on the court in dismay as Virginia (21-11) watched its top two scorers come up empty at the end.

Coach Dave Leitao, who has led the Cavaliers through a similar two-year revival, immediately went to console the junior.

"We kind of got our heart broken," Leitao said. "I understood at that moment in time because he's so hard on himself that he would immediately take the blame, and that's the last thing I wanted him to do."

Tennessee will play No. 1 Ohio State in the South Regional on Thursday in San Antonio. The high- scoring Vols lost at Ohio State 68-66 in January, when 7-foot center Greg Oden was just finding his form.

"Ohio State has changed a lot," said Pearl, who has taken Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tennessee to the round of 16 in the past three years. "There was some uncertainty for them at that time. Greg was just starting to come on. My guess is they've gotten a lot better than we have."

The Buckeyes will face a team determined to press and shoot the 3 - the Vols set school records for steals and 3s this season. They put their mark on the tournament in their opening game, matching the school and NCAA first-round scoring records by piling up 121 points against Long Beach State.

In the end Sunday, the Vols advanced by having their best player make the easiest shot of all.

Lofton, the Southeastern Conference's Player of the Year, hit all six of his free throws in the last 27.7 seconds, keeping Tennessee ahead. He finished with 20 points.

"I started forcing shots," said Lofton, who was an uncharacteristic 4-of-16 from the field but 9-of-10 on free throws. "Coach kept telling me to be patient. Luckily, I got to the foul line and came through."

It was a numbing finish for Virginia, which got another big game from its guard tandem of J.R. Reynolds (26 points) and Singletary (19 points). It wasn't enough to get the Cavs into the round of 16 for the first time since 1995.

Instead, Tennessee got the better of one of the tournament's most colorful matchups.

Reynolds donned bright orange shoes for the Cavs' first-round game against Albany, and immediately broke out of his shooting slump by making his first seven shots and scoring 28 points overall.

The orange shoes were back Sunday and Reynolds had another big first half, scoring 22 points, but he twisted his right ankle on a late drive to the basket. The sore ankle knocked him out of rhythm in the second half, when he was only 2-of-6.

"I didn't have the same lift or push off my right ankle," Reynolds said.

Appropriately, it all came down to the guards.

In the opening minute, Reynolds and Lofton turned it into a game of H-O-R-S-E. Reynolds hit a 3 from the top of the key on Virginia's first possession, and Lofton responded with a longer 3 a minute later.

Reynolds was at his best during an 18-3 spurt that gave Virginia a 36-25 lead, scoring 12 of the points on assorted shots - but then it was Tennessee's turn.

Smith had a three-point play and a steal for a layup during a 15-2 spurt early in the second half that put Tennessee ahead to stay 54-44. Smith finished with 16 points.

At that point, Singletary brought Virginia back. He got a rebound as he was falling and, while on his chest, passed to Adrian Joseph for a basket that cut it to 61-59.

Smith ended the comeback by hitting a 3-pointer, then taking a charge from Singletary. Lofton, an 80.5 percent free throw shooter, then finished it off from the line.

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