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Louisville-Virginia preview: Cards and Cavaliers both shoot for share of ACC regular season title

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There’s a lot on the line for both teams in Saturday’s regular season finale in Charlottesville.

Virginia v Louisville Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (24-6, 15-4) At Virginia Cavaliers (22-7, 14-5)

Game Time: 4:05 p.m.

Location: John Paul Jones Arena: Charlottesville, Va.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Doug Sherman (play-by-play) and Cory Alexander (analyst)

Favorite: Virginia by 1

Officials: Ron Groover, Tony Henderson, Clarence Armstrong

Series: Virginia leads, 15-5

Last Meeting: Louisville won 80-3 on Feb. 8, 2020 in Louisville

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About Virginia:

A lot has changed for Virginia since Louisville’s 80-73 triumph over the Cavaliers on Feb. 8. The one thing that hasn’t is UVA’s number in the loss column. Since falling to the Cards — a loss which snapped a nine-game winning streak over U of L — Virginia has reeled off seven consecutive wins and gone from a team on the wrong side of the bubble to one with a chance to win a share of the ACC’s regular season title.

Virginia hasn’t exactly been dominant during its winning streak. In fact, the 26 combined points those seven wins have come by is tied for the lowest total margin of victory during a 7-game winning streak in college basketball history. Outside of a 78-65 win over Boston College on Feb. 19, each win during UVA’s streak has come by three points or fewer.

The general makeup of this Virginia team is still the same as it was a month ago. The Cavaliers are the best defensive team in the country by a wide margin, but one of the worst offensive teams in the ACC. Once again playing at the slowest pace in America, UVA is averaging just 57.0 points per game, good for 351st out of 353 Division-I teams. A large part of the reason for that is a team three-point shooting percentage of 30.3, good for 310th in D-I. It should be noted that the Hoos were shooting just 27.5 percent as a team from three going into the first meeting with Louisville, and promptly knocked down 11-of-22 shots from beyond the arc.

The guy playing the best basketball for Virginia at the moment is likely center Jay Huff. The 7’1 junior came one rebound shy of recording a triple-double in last week’s win over Duke, a game in which he blocked 10 shots, becoming the first player to record double digit blocks in a power conference game since 2012.

Huff’s versatility makes him a matchup nightmare for most teams. Louisville would have the perfect answer for him in the form of Malik Williams, except Williams is currently hampered with a left ankle injury. If Williams is limited or unable to go at all, it will only put more pressure on Steven Enoch or, when the Cardinals go small, Dwayne Sutton to keep Huff from once again stuffing the stat sheet.

The guy that everyone remembers from meeting one between these two teams is Tomas Woldetensae. The junior from Italy scored a career-high 27 points against the Cardinals as he went nuts from beyond the arc, drilling seven of his 10 attempts. Woldetensae has remained extremely erratic since that performance. He scored in double figures in three straight games against North Carolina, Boston College and Pitt, but has scored just five total points in Virginia’s last three games. He’s failed to register a single point in each of UVA’s last two games, and has missed 15 of his last 16 field goal attempts overall.

Virginia’s top overall performer remains senior forward Mamadi Diakite. The hero of last year’s Elite Eight win over Purdue ranks eighth in the ACC in blocks (1.2), 12th in defensive rebounds (5.1), 13th in free throw percentage (76.1) and scoring (13.6), and 15th in rebounding (6.7).

The other guy who destroyed Louisville in the first meeting was diminutive point guard Kihei Clark, who broke out of a shooting slump by drilling 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and scoring a career-high 23 points. For all the criticism he sometimes receives from UVA fans, Clark is the guy who stabilizes the Cavaliers, which is why Bennett almost never takes him out of the game. Clark ranks second in the ACC in minutes (37.1), third in assists (5.9) and ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7).

Braxton Key, Virginia’s other senior besides Diakite who will be honored on Saturday, has been rock solid in recent weeks. Key is a top 10 rebounder in the ACC and had scored in double figures in four straight games before being held to five in UVA’s 46-44 slugfest win over Miami on Wednesday. He’s missed his last 12 three-point attempts and hasn’t made one since Feb. 5, which all but guarantees that he’ll be knocking down at least one shot from beyond the arc Saturday afternoon.

John Paul Jones Arena has been one of the toughest places to play for years now, and Virginia hasn’t lost at home since January. With a conference title potentially on the line and the program bidding farewell to a pair of guys who played key roles on last year’s national title team, expect Saturday’s road environment to be as juiced up as any Louisville has played in this season.

Virginia hasn’t lost its final home game of the regular season since 2012.

Notable:

—Louisville enters its final game of the regular season tied atop the ACC standings with Florida State. A win will assure the Cardinals of at least a share of the ACC regular season title as well as a top two seed in next week’s ACC tournament.

—Louisville last earned a share of a regular season conference championship during its one season as a member of the American Athletic Conference in 2014-15.

—Louisville is 1-7 all-time in games against Virginia in Charlottesville, and 0-5 inside John Paul Jones Arena.

—Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is 10-2 lifetime against Louisville.

—Louisville’s 15-4 start is its best in six years as a member of the ACC.

—Saturday is Senior Day for Virginia, which will honor Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key in a ceremony before the game.

—Louisville is 21-1 when leading or tied at halftime this season, and 3-5 when trailing at the break.

—Virginia is 194-45 (.812), including a 13-3 mark in 2019-20, in 14 seasons at John Paul Jones Arena.

—After a 6-0 start in ACC road games, Louisville enters Saturday having lost three in a row.

—Louisville has made as many as nine three-pointers in a game on 17 occasions this season, including in seven of its last 11 games. The Cards have lost three of those four games in which they haven’t hit the nine three-pointer mark.

—Louisville enters Saturday ranked 13th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.389), 20th in rebound margin (+6.5), 23rd in scoring margin (+10.8) and 36th in scoring defense (63.9).

—Virginia has won seven straight games since its loss to Louisville last month. The Cavaliers have won those seven games by a combined 26 points, which is tied for the lowest total margin of victory during a 7-game winning streak in college basketball history.

—Since 2004, Louisville is 123-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Virginia is 3-2 against ranked opponents this season.

—Louisville is 2-3 against ranked opponents this season.

—Virginia enters Saturday ranked first in the nation in scoring defense (52.3), second in field goal percentage defense (36.9), third in fewest fouls (390), fourth in personal fouls per game (13.4), 14th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (29.0), 23rd in blocks per game (4.9) and 24th in total blocks (142).

—The 80 points Virginia allowed Louisville to score last month are the most the Cavaliers have surrendered this season.

—Virginia has held 12 of its 29 opponents this season to fewer than 50 points. UVA has also held four opponents under 40 points.

—Louisville is 18-1 this season when holding opponents to 68 points or fewer, and 6-5 on the year when teams score more than 68.

—The Cardinals are 18-0 this season when scoring at least 71 points, and just 6-6 when failing to hit that mark.

—Louisville has won 161 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 154 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.

—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 56, Virginia 55