Louisville rallies, upsets UVA: Keep grinding

uva basketballSix minutes into the game, Louisville was running second-ranked UVA out of the gym, up 15-3, playing with more emotion, more aggression.

Virginia had thought earlier in the week that it was getting All-America candidate Justin Anderson back after a seven-game absence, before Anderson had to go undergo an appendectomy on Thursday, putting him back on the shelf for at least another week.

So there was that reason to be flat. Another was that the Cavs had clinched the ACC regular-season title with their win at Syracuse on Monday.

At this stage, the games that matter are the ones played in the NCAA Tournament. Which isn’t to say that you don’t want to win, don’t care if you lose, that kind of thing, but the eyes are on the prize, and it’s not a #1 seed, as nice as that would be.

The prize is a national title.

So you’re down 12 early, playing a game like the one the Cavs faced a year ago, on the road at Maryland, with the regular-season title sewn up, the big games to come.

You could be forgiven for throwing in the towel, which of course a Tony Bennett team is not going to do.

It was down to five by the half, and Virginia took a brief lead midway through the second half before the Cardinals went back up by eight in the last five minutes.

Again, you can throw in the towel there, nobody would be upset if you did, but Tony Bennett teams don’t throw in the towel.

A Malcolm Brogdon three with 13 seconds left gave Virginia a one-point lead. Louisville coach Rick Pitino called a timeout with nine seconds to go, and drew up a play for guard Terry Rozier, who ran through a screen set by reserve Mangok Mathiang, was double-teamed, and passed back to Mathiang, a 38 percent shooter averaging 2.6 points per game.

Mathiang is the guy on the court you want shooting the ball, if you’re Virginia.

He made the shot. Ballgame.

Down 12 early, down eight late, you hit a three to take the lead, you force the fifth option to hit a contested 15-footer with two seconds left.

You hate losing, but you learn from this one. One, two straight games getting down big early – can’t keep letting that happen. As nice as it is to talk about the grit that UVA showed coming back both games, this is not the time of year to need to mount serious comebacks game after game.

Two, somehow this team needs to get some damn luck on its side. If it’s not Anderson breaking his pinky and appendicitis, it’s London Perrantes breaking his nose twice, or tonight Anthony Gill spraining his ankle in the second half and not scoring or getting a shot off in seven ineffective minutes, you don’t even want to think what could be next.

Three, you lost this one late, you lost the Duke game in the last two minutes, your last loss was last year in the Sweet Sixteen to Michigan State, in the last minute. Two of those losses involved Gill spraining his ankle in the second half, so not sure what you learn there, but looking at the key plays in each, it was Louisville, Duke and Michigan State each beating UVA on the end of the floor that it usually dominates, on the defensive end.

In each situation, Virginia forced the shot it wanted, and it went in.

Not sure what you learn when you look at it that way, either.

Unless the lesson is, just keep grinding.

Tony Bennett teams already know to keep grinding.

– Column by Chris Graham

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