Cavaliers depart on NCAA journey

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The Virginia men's basketball team got on the proverbial 'Road to the Final Four' on Wednesday afternoon -- even if the Cavaliers' departure from Charlottesville was delayed.

The departure time for UVA's team bus from John Paul Jones Arena was pushed back because the plane the Cavaliers were set to take to Columbia, SC was late arriving at CHO. The Wahoos finally headed to the airport an hour later than originally intended.

The Cavaliers will spend the rest of the week in Columbia as the No. 1 seed in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament. They'll face No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb on Friday afternoon. With a win, they'll face either No. 8 seed Ole Miss or No. 9 seed Oklahoma in Sunday's second round.

Get past those two games, and the Wahoos will travel to Louisville next week, where the South Region's Sweet 16 games are set for Thursday, and Elite Eight on Saturday. The Final Four will be played in Minneapolis the first weekend in April.

Reaching that final weekend of the season would be a first for Tony Bennett, who's now in his 10th season as coach of the Cavaliers. This is UVA's seventh NCAA Tournament appearance under Bennett, and the fourth time in that stretch that the Wahoos earned a No. 1 seed.

"Every team that's in this tournament can play, and there's no teams that can't play," Bennett said following the bracket's release on Sunday. "You don't take for granted finding out who you play and where you play. And now you're in kind of, you have your regular conference season, you have the conference tournament and now you have this third kind of season, the NCAA Tournament, and the excitement to grow and try to do as well as you can."

The closest the Cavaliers have come to a Final Four under Bennett was in 2016, when UVA reached the Elite Eight as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region before letting a second-half lead get away against Syracuse. Bennett's 2014 team also reached the second weekend of the tournament, before losing to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Between those two runs, UVA again lost to the Spartans as a No. 2 seed in 2015 -- this time, in the Round of 32. The Cavaliers also reached the second round two years ago in Orlando, before losing to Florida. UVA has also been one-and-done in the tournament twice under Bennett -- in 2012, and last year's historic loss to No. 16 seed UMBC, when the Wahoos were the No. 1 overall seed in the bracket.

That lack of a Final Four is often pointed to as the one achievement still missing from Bennett's resume as head coach of the Cavaliers. Associate head coach Jason Williford acknowledged that this week -- but also says that it has not defined the UVA program over the past decade.

"We're very, very thankful for where we are," Williford said. "And at some point it'll happen -- hopefully sooner than later. But let's not forget what we've accomplished. We've accomplished a lot. And I know the history of Virginia basketball. What Tony has done, what we've done, what these players have done, I think they should be thankful for where we are."

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