On an afternoon in which Virginia shot just 2-of-17 from three, surrendered 12 threes to Louisville and got just 12 points on 4-of-20 shooting from its starting backcourt duo of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, the No. 3-ranked Cavaliers defeated the No. 18-ranked Cardinals 64-52 for their fifth road win over a ranked opponent this season.
Virginia has now won four games in a row since losing at home to Duke and three of those wins were on the road against top-20 opponents North Carolina, Virginia Tech and now Louisville.
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Virginia redshirt sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter was the star inside the KFC Yum! Center, where he scored a career-high 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting. He made all six of his free throws and both of his threes, the latter of which came after he curled off a screen and knocked down a shot from behind the arc that extended Virginia’s lead to 58-50 – its largest up to that point in the game.
But most of Hunter’s work came inside the arc.
With Louisville leading by 12 early in the second half, Hunter shook Dwayne Sutton with a crossover dribble on the baseline that set up a ferocious two-handed slam for Virginia’s first points of the half.
Just over a minute later Hunter slipped past the back line of Louisville’s defense from the left corner to the rim, where he finished a long alley-oop pass from Guy from just across halfcourt. The finish started a run in which Hunter scored eight straight points for Virginia, which cut the deficit to two after he finished a layup through contact, then completed a three-point play at the free throw line.
On Virginia’s next possession, Jay Huff tied the game at 41 with a dunk off an assist from Kihei Clark.
The bench production of Huff (12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes) and Mamadi Diakite (14 points, five rebounds and three blocks in 31 minutes) was critical as starting center Jack Salt played just six minutes in the game.
Huff had an especially impressive 30-second stretch at the end of the first half in which he finished a one-handed alley-oop from Clark, swatted a layup by Louisville’s Jordan Nwora on the other end, then tipped in a missed three from Jerome. But Louisville took a 10-point lead, 37-27, into halftime after Nwora made a deep, contested three over Diakite that beat the buzzer.
However, the Cardinals only scored 15 points in the second half as they dropped their second straight game and suffered their fifth loss in their last seven games.
If you were looking for a turning point in the game, it was when Guy drove from the top of the key through the heart of Louisville’s defense and finished off the glass with his left hand, giving Virginia its first lead of the game – 49-47 with 8:46 remaining. On Louisville’s ensuing possession, Diakite drew a charge on Nwora, even though Diakite’s left heel was inside the charge circle.
When the replay was shown on the jumbotron inside the arena, Louisville Coach Chris Mack became irate with the officials and he was assessed a technical foul. Hunter made both free throws to give Virginia a four-point lead.
The Cardinals only scored five points in the final eight minutes of the game.
Barring an epic collapse, Louisville should still earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with ease but the Cardinals have quickly fallen from their projection as a No. 4 seed in the Bracket Preview Show just two weeks ago. It’s fair to wonder if Louisville’s home loss to Duke has had a lingering effect on the Cardinals.
They had a 12-point lead in the second half in Saturday’s loss. They lost by 20 points at Syracuse Wednesday. They nearly blew a seven-point lead in the final 17 seconds of a one-point win at home against Clemson last Saturday.
On the other hand, Virginia is streaking toward a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the Cavaliers are now 24-0 against opponents not named Duke.