When you’re the fan of a great team or a great program, a win by seven in a game your team was favored to win by a little more than seven isn’t supposed to elicit a feeling of elation that carries you through the rest of the weekend. Louisville is a great team and U of L is a great program, but there are exceptions to the final part of that equation.
Saturday was an exception.
The next time Louisville wins a game against Virginia that it was supposed to win, there won’t be the same level of lingering excitement that this W produced. Cardinal players and fans will follow the advice of every aging broadcaster in America and “act like they’ve been there before.” Therein lies the importance of Saturday’s victory. No player on this team and no coach on this staff had been there before. The last time the fan base had been there, not a sniff of impropriety surrounded their favorite program.
Louisville winning its 10th straight game on Saturday kept its most dubious active streak from reaching the same mark. Nine in a row. U of L’s longest active losing streak against a D-I opponent outside of Virginia was less than half that — four straight losses to former Big East foe Georgetown.
The nine losses had come in such a variety of fashions — one of them historically improbable — that only a fan who had slogged through all nine could fully understand what fellow fans were feeling as Virginia turned a 14-point halftime deficit into a two-point advantage with just over three minutes to play. Only a fan who witnessed a four-point lead with less than a second to play turn into a one-point loss in regulation could not bat an eye when the fifth worst-shooting team in America suddenly couldn’t miss from the outside and scored nearly 20 points more than its season average.
In the midst of what appears to have all the makings of a special season, this was an isolated hurdle that needed to be cleared. It didn’t have to be flawless, it didn’t need to be navigated without breaking stride, but it had to happen for the race to roll on.
There’s no doubt that it’s rolling.
—Before Saturday, I had watched more 2019-20 Virginia basketball than any sane human being, Virginia fan or not, should have watched. In each and every one of those stretches of games, the UVA offense had looked exactly the same: Run some good stuff, get a good shot, good shot is missed badly. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
At some point you have to stop being surprised by these sort of things.
The same Virginia team that was the fifth-worst three-point shooting team in America at 27.2 percent went 11-of-22 from beyond the arc. The same Kiehei Clark who had missed 14 consecutive treys and not made one since Jan. 11 drilled 4-of-6. A guy averaging 5.4 points per game put on maybe the second-best shooting display the KFC Yum Center has ever seen, trailing only Carsen Edwards in last year’s Elite Eight.
How absurd was UVA’s offensive effort? With less than a month to go in the regular season — a time when typically too much data has been accumulated for one game to cause any sort of dramatic rankings shift — Virginia’s offensive efficiency ranking on Ken Pom jumped from No. 274 in the country to No. 228 with the snap of a finger.
And they lost.
—Mrs. CC and I didn’t find out the sex of our child until she arrived, but when we were discussing potential names early on in the process, I was the one who initially pushed for Virginia if it was a girl. It’s my mom’s name, it’s my grandmother’s name, it was my great grandmother’s name, and my wife is actually Mary Virginia.
Mary was all for it, but her only concern was “don’t you think people will give you shit if we give our child the same name as the one team that always beats us?” My response was that having baby Virginia alive and on our side was going to reverse this entire thing. There would be sort of a Highlander effect at play, and Louisville would suddenly own sports Virginia because of baby Virginia.
These are actual conversations that we have as adults in our 30s.
Football — Louisville takes down a ranked Virginia team that would eventually win the Coastal Division and knock off Virginia Tech for the first time in a billion years.
Basketball — Louisville takes down reigning national champion Virginia on an afternoon where the Cavaliers play easily their best offensive game of the season.
We’ve found the antidote, Tony.
Your powers are ours now.
—Related notes: CC Podcast is still undefeated.
Also, because I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it (I’ve gotten precisely two questions about it), the Cardinal Slow Globe (CSG) was moved to a prominent position upstairs before the Florida State game, much to the chagrin of the lady of the house. It was immediately moved downstairs following the loss, and has since sat in the same spot on a shelf directly in front of where I record the CC podcast.
More magic at play.
—Entering Saturday, Virginia’s defense had allowed better 1.3 points per possession just three times in the Tony Bennett era. Louisville made it four by averaging 1.36 points per possession.
—On the flip side, Virginia averaged 1.24 points per possession on offense, easily its best number since all the way back to last year’s national championship game.
—Here’s the interaction between Chris Mack and official Keith Kimble that set the stage for Mack’s technical a few moments later:
Here was the whole sequence that had Chris Mack upset and the ref squaring him up pic.twitter.com/rUM5X7jYqp— John Lewis WDRB (@JohnWDRB) February 9, 2020
I get that officials are people too and that at a certain point they’re going to react to being shouted at, but come on ...
When the whistle blew a few moments later and the announcers couldn’t figure out what was going on, there was no doubt in my mind about what had just happened. Even in that moment, I didn’t blame Mack.
Kimble was super touchy and just begging for an excuse. Meanwhile, Louisville was giving off some serious Virginia curse vibes and had just been hit with three highly questionable whistles (or lack of whistles) on three straight possessions. That’s the disaster recipe.
—Is Louisville the only team that has solved Tony Bennett? Many people are saying this.
Louisville is the ninth team to score 80 points in regulation against a Tony Bennett -coached team in his 467-game career.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) February 8, 2020
Bennett's teams are 1-8 in those games.
—I’m not going to act like I was completely calm and certain of victory as Clark’s free-throws ripped the net and put UVA ahead by two. But I think I would have been against anyone but Virginia.
For the last month, this team has found a way to win in every situation imaginable, including the one described above. It’s such a complete role-reversal from where we were at this point in the season year ago. I had confidence that Louisville was going to fight back and not roll over, but I was also fully aware that freaky Virginia Yum Center shit was going down once again.
—To me, this is a top five nominee for most important shot of the season:
With a potentially devastating loss creeping its ugly head around the corner, David Johnson showed absolutely zero fear. I guess that sort of comes with the territory when you’re coming out party happens against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
No stage seems too big for this kid, who has absolutely changed the entire season for this team.
—More David Johnson being awesome? More David Johnson being awesome.
david johnson is the first louisville freshmwn to have a 30%+ assist rate through 10+ games.— Chris Hatfield (@ChrisDHatfield) February 10, 2020
highest assist rate among freshman in the acc @ 32% (leads by 10%).
17 minutes: 7 points, 5 assist, 3 rebounds against virginia. supercut of all his assist & field goals. pic.twitter.com/Py3qhMpnh5
—For weeks now, we’ve talked about how there was going to be a game soon where the bigs had to win it for us. I think we all assumed that it was going to be a game where the outside shots simply weren’t falling, not one where Nwora, Perry and McMahon were unconscious from deep.
The reality of Saturday is that the torrid outside shooting by Louisville and Virginia more or less canceled each other out. Turnovers were similar and so were the overall field goal percentage numbers. Where the Cards won this game was with offensive rebounds and second chance points.
U of L’s bigs pulled down eight offensive rebounds that resulted in 15 second-chance points, while Virginia was only able to secure three offensive rebounds for just four second-chance points. There’s the game right there.
Malik Williams was once again an absolute warrior down the stretch (knee looked fine), and when UVA had to stop doubling the post because of Louisville’s hot shooting from the perimeter, the Steven Enoch baby hook once again became an automatic deuce on critical possessions.
Twenty minutes for both guys and 13 monster points from both guys. That’s perfect.
—There was a moment late in the game on a critical possession where Dwayne Sutton was wide open in the corner and standing directly in front of Malik Williams, who had the ball. Despite that being a situation where it seems like Sutton always makes the shot, Williams opted to try and score himself, and it didn’t go great.
Even so, it was awesome to see that this happened moments later.
Williams just grabbed Sutton in the huddle and apologized for not passing to him in the corner— Danielle Lerner (@danielle_lerner) February 8, 2020
I’ll never get tired of seeing teams evolve and come together over the course of the season and showcase the level of maturity in mid-February and March that fans were clamoring for in late November and early December.
This team is getting it on every level right now.
—After an off night against Wake Forest, First Segment Darius (FSD) was back and better than ever on Saturday afternoon, banging a trio of three-pointers that each ripped the net. He didn’t score again, but that’s why we have Last Segment Fresh (LSF).
Although if we’re looking to make this more than just a first four minutes thing, this is at least worth a shot.
Any time Darius checks in an assistant should show him a board with “20:00” written on it. I am not joking.— doctorofdunk (@doctorofdunk) February 8, 2020
Chapionship teams are willing to try whatever they need to try.
—Jordan Nwora was sensational on both ends of the floor on Saturday. It was the type of complete performance that he was so often criticized for not being able to give all of last year and during the first half of this season.
There was a play late in the first half where Nwora was hounding Braxton Key near midcourt. Nwora eventually forced Key to pick up his dribble, and then pressured him so much that he was forced to waste a timeout. The rest of the team reacted like UVA had just called a timeout because Jordan had hit seven threes in a row. It might be the most enthusiasm he’s received for any play he’s made during his time at U of L.
I’m also a big fan of whenever Jordan motions for the crowd to get louder. Most of the time it happens right after he’s made a big offensive play, but on Saturday it happened when he was on the bench after being subbed out.
The guy has a little under two months left to carve out his U of L legacy, and it seems like he’s really starting to realize that, which is awesome.
—Ryan McMahon has made 11 of his last 17 three-pointers. If it’s a semi-clean look at this point, I’m just assuming it’s going down. If it’s a ridiculous look at this point, I still feel like there’s a decent chance that it’s going down.
Kid is an absolute weapon that only a handful of teams across the country have.
—Top five celebration video of the season:
—Also of note, the Mack Shimmy has returned to the KFC Yum Center, folks.
I really like that Mack didn’t try to play the “just a win over a team we were supposed to beat” card, because he easily could have. His only experience with Virginia was a pair of competitive losses last season to a team that would eventually win the national championship. He wasn’t here for the 0.9 seconds loss or the 13-point half or the ACC tournament loss. Still, he recognized how big a deal this was for his veteran players and his fan base, and he treated the win with the level of exuberance it deserved. That’s cool.
—Louisville’s offensive rating in this game on Bart Torvik was a 159.3. That’s the second-best number any team has posted this season.
“Pack line teams love to be pack lined” is the new “pressing teams don’t like to be pressed.”
—We saw it for the first time in the Kentucky game, but when situations are at their diciest, Fresh is that dude for this team.
check out who the vocal leader is in the huddle when chris mack got the technical and it felt like things could be slipping away.— Chris Hatfield (@ChrisDHatfield) February 9, 2020
fresh kimble means a lot to this group. pic.twitter.com/6GmiTf9gex
Why is Fresh so important to this team? Before Williams shot his free throws, Fresh walked up to each player on the court and said “this games not over”. Leadership. @UofLSheriff50 pic.twitter.com/LKFlz2efOL— Williamncaudill (@wncaudill) February 8, 2020
There was so much talk over the first half of the season about how the grad transfer point guard needed to be bigger or needed to be a better outside shooter. As it turns out, we got the perfect guy for this team.
—I know there’s almost certainly going to be a come down moment at some point in the weeks to come, but I couldn’t be more excited about this team at this moment.
That’s it. That’s the way this post ends.