LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Add this one to the list of leads I never thought I'd type: The University of Louisville's recipe for beating No. 2-ranked Virginia on Saturday was a shot of Mangok with a dash of onions.

When Mangok Mathiang went up from 17 feet out with about four seconds to play and U of L trailing 57-56, I could just hear the postgame howling right now.

If that ball doesn't go, they're killing Rick Pitino, killing the program, bemoaning the lack of talent, killing next year's recruiting class, killing last year's recruiting class, killing anyone with an open line or a broadband connection.

Everybody in the arena yelled, “No!” During the timeout before the play, I said, via Twitter, if I'd been Pitino, I'd have replaced Mathiang with Anas Mahmoud for offensive reasons. (Twitter is dangerous, kids.)

Nobody would've picked that to be the final shot. Pitino himself, after the game, said Mathiang was “the 64th option.”

But forget what anyone else thought. What did Mathiang think when he ball left his hand?

“All money,” said the sophomore center from Australia.

The shot was dead center. U of L forced a turnover on Virginia's ensuing inbounds play, and one Terry Rozier free throw and an intentional miss later, the No. 16-ranked Cardinals had handed Virginia only its second loss of the season, 59-57 before a crowd of 22,788 at the KFC Yum! Center.

U of L won its 22nd straight at home against a team it had lost to earlier in the season on the road. Its last four Senior Night wins all came against nationally ranked teams. The only loss in that stretch was to unranked South Florida — and that U of L team went on to a Final Four.

As he seized the public address microphone after the game to introduce senior Wayne Blackshear and junior Montrezl Harrell to the crowd, Pitino shouted, “How about Mangok! How about Mangok!”

Mangok was good in the final seconds. But Harrell was outstanding the whole game. The junior finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. He scored in the post. He scored on put-backs. He scored on midrange shots and he even hit a three-pointer.

What did he think when he saw the final shot leave Mathiang's hands?

“Just get in offensive rebounding position,” Harrell said.

The play had been designed to get the ball to Terry Rozier off some high screen action. When he came cross the lane, all Rozier could see was bodies from Virginia's pack-line defense. Then he looked to his right, shuffled a little pass to Mathiang, and before anyone could think about it, Mathiang was pulling the trigger.

“I said a little prayer,” Rozier said. “I wanted it to go, because Mangok is one of my best friends on the team. He deserved it. He's worked hard on that shot. He doesn't always shoot it, but we know he can make it. Plus, I gave him the pass.”

Yeah, they'd have killed Rozier, too, for throwing it to him, had it missed.

It didn't.

What did Virginia coach Tony Bennett think when the ball left Mathiang's hands?

“Obviously we wanted to make it hard for Terry and Montrezl,” Bennett said. “I thought we defended the possession pretty well.  . . . I don't want to say I expected him not to make it, but I was OK with the way we defended that possession. I don't know if someone was scrambling to at least bother the shot, but good for him. He stepped up and made a big shot. I don't think that's his forte, but he did it in a big setting, and that was obviously the nail in the coffin for us.”

This was a Big East-kind of physical game. U of L took it to Virginia early. In front of a red-out crowd that was the loudest of the season in the KFC Yum! Center, freshman Quentin Snider got going from three-point range early and within six minutes the Cards had exceeded their entire first-half output from Feb. 7 in Charlottesville, leading 15-3.

They wound up shooting 52 percent in the first half to lead by five at the half, one of the few teams you'll find anywhere to put together back-to-back halves of better than 50 percent shooting against the Cavaliers.

Bennett was impressed with the Cardinals' early intensity, and with the Louisville crowd.

“I didn't like how it started defensively,” he said. “Credit Louisville. Coach Pitino had them ready. They were cutting so hard offensively, and they were all over the glass. Their ball pressure was terrific. The first time we played them at our place I think we had two or three turnovers only. They forced us into some turnovers. . . . A lot of that is credit to the intensity in this building and the intensity on the floor. . . . This is my first time in here. Is the crowd always like this? Because if it is, my goodness.”

My goodness is right. Pitino said Mathiang has been shooting that 15-foot jumper after practice for about two months.

“I was so happy Mangok made that shot because it was a big lift for our basketball team,” Pitino said. “. . . I will say this, Mangok has gone in the gym every night for the last two months. Nobody would play him, not this shot, but nobody would play him in the zone when he would catch the ball right below the foul line. Everybody would just back off. I said to him, when he kept driving and turning the ball over, ‘if you can't make a 14-foot shot son, you can't play college basketball at the University of Louisville.' . . . That shot was good from the moment it left his hand. I'm real happy for him because he put in the work.”

It was the first jump shot Mathiang has made since U of L's win over Savannah State on Nov. 24.

It now earns Louisville a double-bye into the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The Cardinals will play at 2 p.m. on Thursday. And they head into the postseason off their best effort of the season.

They generated 35 deflections and forced 13 turnovers against one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Pitino scrapped the team's complex matchup zone for a basic 2-3 look, and the players responded with far more activity defensively. And one game after breaking out of the game plan and the set offense in a loss to Notre Dame, the Cards were disciplined offensively and were rewarded.

“I hurt the team by trying to stay with a complex system,” Pitino said. “But my hands were untied when Chris Jones left. We were dong a great job for 60 percent of the season confusing people. Now it's time for us to stop confusing our own team. That's why we had to make the changes, and I think the guys are very confident right now.”

And for a team that in some ways improbably found its way to a 24-7 record, that confidence comes at a very good time.

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