U of L fell to feisty Virginia in the regular season finale, 57-54.
After a sketchy start in Charlottesville, the Cardinals got a hum going soon enough, fashioning a 14-2 run to take charge of the affair. It featured a couple ICBMs from Jordan Nwora and another from Ryan McMahon.
Also to be noted: During the skein, U of L starting center, still injured Malik Williams had entered the fray.
But it was not to be his Willis Reed moment. Out of character gaffes on consecutive offensive possessions and a noticeable limp when trying to run the court indicated he wasn’t really ready.
Yet, at the 10:37 media stoppage, the Cards had doubled up the Cavaliers at 16-8, and were, well, lookin’ good, and up to the considerable task of winning in the JPJ.
Then, after Nwora found Steven Enoch on a high/low set for a slam and a 20-13 advantage, the game turned.
UVa scored, then Enoch made a beautiful no look back pass to Sam Williamson, but had been whistled for a foot shuffle, nullifying a tally.
At which point, Chris Mack lost his cool at the wrong time when the Cards were whistled for a lane violation on a Jay Huff missed +1. Louisville’s coach was teed up. Kihei Clark netted the penalty FTs. Huff connected on the makeup FT, to complete a game changing five point trip, knotting the tilt at 20.
The home team finished the half on a 6-0/18-6 run, leading 31-24, heading to the locker room.
The home team’s surge continued after the break. The Cavaliers lead ballooned to 43-29 with 13:20 to play on a most familiar-looking Tomas Woldetensae trey.
Then the Cardinals, as they have before, proved they have an abundance of tenacity, despite their limited arsenal. They displayed no quit, no collapse.
As it is said, they clawed their way back.
Mack mixed and matched lineups, often curiously, but mostly to positive effect. Dwayne Sutton only played 24 minutes, much of his PT by necessity in the pivot. Where he of course battled his buttocks off. Steven Enoch had 11 and 3 in the 1st, but disappeared after intermission, finishing with no points a single rebound in the 2d and a -13, with four turnovers.
Fred Hina, work your magic please. U of L needs a healthy Malik Williams to be effective in the post season.
Fresh Kimble and Darius Perry were in tandem for significant stretches late, even though analytics reveal the team is considerably less efficient offensively when they’re in at the same time.
Yet, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the Cardinals pulled closer.
Credit U of L’s D, Coach Mack did:
”I give our guys a lot of credit for being able to find themselves again defensively and begin to put some stops together. A few times we scored in transition, but it just made the game feel different once we started getting stops.”
A Perry threeball at 5:12 completed the comeback, a 16-4 run, tying the battle up at 51.
Mack played a smaller lineup for much of the comeback. His thinking:
”I think it is a different way to play. I know that Virginia Tech, a lot of the times when they had five guys out there and went small, they took [Jay] Huff out of the game a lot of the times. I felt like if they kept him in, with [Mamadi] Diakite, then it would be hard to keep up with them defensively. I thought with five small guys we could be tough enough defensively and we were for a little bit. So that was our thinking, I thought we needed to change things rather than keep going punch-for-punch in the low post with our bigs and their bigs.”
A few essentially empty possessions each way, and UVa was up just a penny with about a minute to play.
After a Braxton Key turnover, the Cards had the ball again with 1:07 to go, with a chance to overtake UVa. Mack oddly subbed David Johnson for Fresh Kimble.
As frustrating as Kimble had been, dribbling too much as is his wont, the grad transfer senior still had 3 points, 3 assists and but a single turnover in the 2d. His +/- was +7 for the half. 6 assists for the game. While Johnson’s freshmanitis had been on display throughout. The rookie had but a single assist against three giveaways, along with several more questionable decisions, the kind that emanate from inexperience. At -16, DJ was the least effective Cardinal on the evening.
The end came. On the offensive possession, Steven Enoch couldn’t corral an iffy pass into the post. Then Kihei Clark drained a wide open trey when U of L failed to cover properly. Ball game.
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Jordan Nwora finished with 18 and 11.
Darius Perry’s defensive effort in the 2d is worthy of praise. His stats were modest. A rebound. Two assists. But he was onions for that game tying triple, his only score of the game. At +7, he led Louisville in +/-.
Virginia scored 16 points off 13 U of L turnovers.
UVa, as usual, is far and away the nation’s best when it comes to not fouling, especially effective since their D under Tony Bennett is becoming legendary. The Cavaliers were +8 at the FT line, 15/20 vs. 7/9.
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Hopefully U of L will get a shot at a rubber match in the ACC semis with UVa, who vaulted the Cardinals for the two seed. As the three seed, U of L will open league tourney play at 9:00 or so Thursday night.
The not so good news is the Cards opening foe in the quarters could very well be resurgent North Carolina. U of L will play the winner of a Wednesday matchup between Syracuse and the winner of a Tuesday game between the Tar Heels and Virginia Tech.
— c d kaplan