CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDRB) – Louisville fans howled when the Cardinals bounced into Rupp Arena Dec. 29 and were bounced back to Jefferson County lugging a 29-point defeat.

Where was the rivalry grit? When Kentucky pushed, why did Louisville retreat? Why were the Cardinals, not the young Wildcats, the team that performed like a collection of freshmen?

Was there anybody outside the Louisville locker room still pushing the conversation that David Padgett should be considered a candidate to upgrade from interim head coach to the guy still coaching the Cardinals beyond the end of this season?

Didn’t think so. Neither did you.

I’m not ready to argue that Padgett has earned a contract, fancy office and generous expense account. You know, The Job.

I am prepared to say that during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference season Padgett has done his work as well as any coach not named Tony Bennett in this challenging league. Padgett has provided order and direction to a program that was out of order and at risk of having a lost season.

I say that after watching Padgett’s team play Bennett’s second-ranked team with more confidence, resolve and grit than any Louisville team played the Cavaliers in John Paul Jones Arena the last three seasons.

“This is the best we’ve played them since I’ve been here,” said U of L center Anas Mahmoud, who has been here every time Louisville has made this trip.

“Down the stretch they just hit some tough shots … I think we played well enough to win. They just played better.”

That happens, especially against this program in this building.

Yes, Louisville lost, 74-64, knocking the Cardinals back from second place to fourth in the ACC, a half-game behind Clemson and Duke. The Cards sit at 6-3 in the league, 16-6 overall. Considering all the nonsense percolating around this program in October, it’s better than many expected.

Yes, the Cavaliers punished the Cards by making nine of 16 three-point shots, including a pair of deep threes by Ty Jerome that silenced Louisville in the final 2 ½ minutes.

Yes, Louisville made too many mistakes with the basketball, throwing the ball away 13 times, which led to a 22-6 advantage for Virginia on points off turnovers.

But know this: Louisville played as if the Cardinals expected to win, not as if they were trying to survive (as U of L has done in this building before). Coincidence? That’s not what I heard after the game.

“The first thing (Padgett) did with us was tell us we had to win the mental game,” Mahmoud said.

“A lot of people talk about how good they (UVa) are defensively and how good they are offensively and you can talk yourself out of it before you even begin.”

You can howl that statistics are for losers. Tough to argue. This isn't intramurals. Or gymnastics. There are no style points.

But what I will howl back at you is that the 64 points were A) the most any ACC team has scored on Virginia this season; B) the most any opponent has scored in this building this season and C) the most points Louisville has scored in seven tries against Bennett’s befuddling Pack Line defense.

Oh, one more number: Louisville made half of its 50 field goal attempts, making the Cardinals the first team to shoot 50 percent against Virginia this season. Louisville had a plan. They didn't rush many shots. They did not abandon the game plan after they fell behind by 14.

“Credit to Louisville,” Bennett said. “That is a talented team. Well coached. They exploited some things. We did not guard perfectly but they made us look out of position at times.”

Yes, you play to win the game. But for once Louisville didn’t look like a team trying to crack Soviet computer code. They attacked Virginia as if they expected to score, not as if they were hoping a shot would somehow fall through the basket every three-to-six minutes.

Give credit to the Louisville players. It’s always reasonable to begin there.

Raymond Spalding belongs in a different league than Virginia center Jack Salt because of his quickness, length and agility. Spalding showed that by making 8 of 10 shots, while scoring 16 points.

Deng Adel only shook loose for nine field goal attempts, but played with unusual efficiency, making three of five shots from distance while scoring 15. Give credit to Ryan McMahon, who also drew a line through the Pack Line with a trio of threes.

But give credit to Padgett, too, because his players certainly did. Spalding credited the entire coaching staff for adding several plays that helped Louisville succeed against Virginia when the Cavaliers extended the defense with their vigorous two-man traps. Spalding called it a "few little wrinkles."

Mahmoud was here when Louisville huffed and puffed to score 47, 46 and 55 the last three times they’ve come to town. While Padgett credited Virginia with playing better defense than the Boston Celtics publicly, the coach had a different message inside his locker room. No “Kryptonite” talk in the locker room.

“We talked about what we can do to beat them, not what they were going to do to us,” Mahmoud said.

Padgett can talk that way again. Through the magic of ACC scheduling, Louisville will get another crack at the Cavaliers on March 1 at the KFC Yum! Center. That will be the Cardinals’ final home game, Senior Day, farewell to the Second and Main Street part of the season.

First Louisville is booked for three consecutive home games and then the most favorable road trip in the ACC (at Pittsburgh). They need to surge from 6-3 and 10-3 and force their way back into second place in the league as well as back into the Top 25.

Louisville wasn’t good enough to beat Virginia. Nobody has been good enough to beat Virginia is this building this season. But, for a change, Louisville came here and played as if they didn’t think they’d need a miracle to win. Give David Padgett credit for that.

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