Around 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, the assembled media at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn was asking UL coach David Padgett and players Quentin Snider and Deng Adel about how confident they are to be playing the top-ranked team in the nation after almost beating them last week and playing the Cavaliers well in Charlottesville in January in a 10-point loss.
Of course we know that being in the media means you have it in for Virginia basketball. That said, Louisville will be a tough matchup for Virginia, but it will have to pay better attention to detail than it did in its first two games with the ‘Hoos to pull off the upset.
In the first game, a 74-64 win for UVA on Jan. 31, Louisville shot 60 percent in the second half, went 9-for-10 from the floor in one second-half stretch, and still lost ground as Virginia shot 53.7 percent and had a 22-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
In the second game, in case you missed it, a 67-66 UVA win last week in which the Cavs scored five points in the final nine-tenths of a second to erase a four-point deficit, Louisville led by as many as 13, still led by 10 with four minutes left, but couldn’t close the deal.
That part of things would worry me if I were Padgett after what we saw on Wednesday’s win over Florida State, in which Louisville led by as many as 25 in the second half, but let FSU back into the game, allowing the ‘Noles to shoot 61.3 percent in the second half en route to getting as close as six late before finally just running out of time.
For a long stretch of this one, you saw Louisville play like the preseason Top 15 team that it was a few months ago and wondered to yourself, How are they an NCAA Tournament bubble team?
At their best, the Cardinals are an attacking, physical, athletic, big group of guys. But as Padgett admitted postgame today, the team seems to play better in close games or even from behind than it does when it’s ahead, and in trying to protect a lead gets away from what it was doing to get the lead.
That could be a little bit on the coach, who was handed the keys to the Louisville program in September when scandal deposed Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, and has done an admirable job keeping the ship from treading too much water in the swirl of controversies new and old, but is still clearly learning on the job.
Give Padgett credit for one thing, though: he made key adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2 with Virginia. Louisville held UVA to 42.9 percent shooting last week, and cutting down on the turnovers that had plagued the Cards in the opening game, with the ‘Hoos getting only a nominal 16-13 edge in points off turnovers as a result.
But even so, it still ended in defeat, and yes, it was the kind of defeat that none of us had ever seen before, at any level, and will never see again, now that we’ve seen it once, but an L is an L is an L is an L.
When Louisville was up 25 early in the second half, it seemed the script was working out as well as could be expected for Cardinals fans: get the win, get the starters some rest, keep some legs for Thursday for the rematch with #1.
The FSU comeback forced Padgett to have to ride his guys harder and longer than he’d wanted, with Adel going 38 minutes and Snider 35, at least 8-10 more than you’d like in a game that seemed to be in hand relatively early on.
And now the narrative is that Louisville has punched its Big Dance ticket. Do the Cards come out like they’re playing with house money, with all the confidence in the world after doing everything but beating #1 less than a week ago?
I think you’d better expect that.
Keys to the Game: Virginia
Don’t settle: Virginia was far too tentative in the first half last week, shooting just 31.8 percent in the first half, settling way too much for threes and contested jumpers in the process. The second half was a different story: attacking the lane with dribble drives, UVA got better looks, and shot 55.7 percent from the floor, and was 4-of-6 from three.
D: Louisville was the aggressor early, connecting on 10-of-15 from the field at the outset, but UVA got back into the game with its defense, forcing eight misses on the Cards’ final nine shots to keep it close, and closed out the second half similarly, with UL going 2-for-12 from the floor in the final 10 minutes.
Get out early: Louisville is either on a roll because of its win over FSU, or it’s got heavy legs because the game was more taxing than it needed to be. A hot early start for the ‘Hoos can make it the latter.
Story by Chris Graham