CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDRB) – Louisville lost its regular-season finale at Virginia on Saturday. That is not new. Louisville hasn’t won in Charlottesville in 29 years. The Cardinals are 0-for-5 in John Paul Jones Arena since joining the ACC.
No 2-ranked Virginia beat Louisville 73-68, but needed its A-game. The Cardinals, who looked two weeks ago as if they might be fading, have battled back.
The last time the Cavaliers beat Louisville, in the KFC Yum! Center on Feb. 23, they outscored Louisville 38-4 in the paint.
“I had never seen anything like it in a basketball game,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said.
The Cardinals followed that up with an uninspiring 66-59 loss at Boston College, after which Mack called them a “fragile group,” and questioned their toughness.
Since then, Louisville hasn’t always executed perfectly. But this performance at Virginia further illustrates that they found a reserve of toughness. It's a handy thing to have heading into the postseason.
There aren’t many teams that start circling the toilet bowl the way it looked like Louisville might be in Chestnut Hill, Mass, then reverse themselves and put things back together. Give the Cardinals credit for doing that.
On Saturday, they outscored Virginia 20-16 in the paint. They outrebounded the Cavaliers 40-31. The Cavaliers, who had won each of their past three games by at least 24 points (including a 26-point win at Syracuse), never led Louisville by more than nine.
I sat at the end of the Louisville bench, virtually, taking photos. They were energetic. They were engaged. They were positive. That's what a winning bench sounds like. They didn't win. They don't have what Virginia has, from a talent standpoint. But what they showed on Saturday, that was solid.
This was a motivated Virginia team. They were playing for the ACC regular-season title. They were playing for the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. They were playing for a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed. They were playing on Senior Day. With just over seven minutes to play, Louisville led by four.
“Virginia is very impressive,” Mack said. “They’re incredibly well-coached. I thought our guys battled their tails off. We put ourselves in position to win the game. I thought their composure versus our composure in the last three to four minutes probably decided the game. I’ve got to do a better job making sure our team stays composed on the offensive end. I don’t think for one minute our urgency on defense ever waned. There was a time when they scored on six or seven possessions in a row, but I mean, they’re really good. . . . They could win it all.”
But Louisville, with effort like that, can win some games too, beginning this Wednesday as the No. 7 seed in the ACC Tournament against Georgia Tech or Notre Dame. After that, can they beat North Carolina in Charlotte? Probably won’t be given much of a chance.
The main thing is that when given a chance to fade away, this team gathered itself and came back strong.
“We just kept talking to each other and believing in each other and listening to the coaches,” Malik Williams said.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett complimented Louisville on its effort.
“Congrats to them on how hard and how well they played,” he said. “That was a physical game. The possessions were hard. They made some tough contested shots, they attacked and they made it hard for us.”
The main thing the Cardinals did wrong was turn the ball over. They only had 10, an acceptable number against most teams. Against Virginia, it was a back-breaker, leading to 17 Cavaliers’ points. Otherwise, Louisville locked down in the paint and held Virginia to 40.4 percent shooting. Unfortunately for the Cards, Virginia shot 43 percent from three-point range and got three off them off the bench from Jay Huff – not a single one of them even rippling the net as it went through.
Louisville got 19 points from Jordan Nwora. It got 12 from Williams, and 10 each from Dwayne Sutton and Christen Cunningham. Steven Enoch had eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds off the bench.
“Nobody wants to come in second,” Mack said. “We’re not in the locker room doing handstands and cartwheels. But Virginia has a chance to win it all. They do. They’re a veteran crew. They’ve got high-level talent. Tony is the best coach in the country. They know who they are. They know what their identity is. For two or three weeks we struggled with our confidence, and we didn’t play very well. But I noticed a different spirit about our team the last couple of weeks. It makes me feel really good. There’s a lot of teams this time of the year, as hard as it is to believe, that want their season to be over. I don’t have any type of feeling like that in our locker room. Our guys, they fought today. They’re disappointed, and they should be because we lost. But we did put ourselves in position against one of the best teams in the country. . . . We’re getting there.”
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