For four of the last seven games, Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins has flirted with his first career double-double, falling short by a bucket or a rebound. Monday night, in a 71-55 win over #4 Louisville, the 6-7, 225 pound junior forward finally hit the elusive jackpot - and he didn’t even know it.
“No, I had no idea.” Wilkins said after the game. “I just found out in the locker room because we had a post-game lift. I found out...somebody told me in there. I was hype and started jumping around when I found out. I didn’t think I had the rebounds for it.”
Wilkins’s teammate London Perrantes didn’t know, either. “He got it?!” When asked what “Zay” has brought to the team of late, the answer was easy: “Energy. Energy is huge. When we need it I look to him to bring it out of everybody. Obviously I’m not a big ‘ooh-rah’, get in everybody’s face type of person - I can if need be - but Zay is that guy for us. The way he plays, blocks shots, gets rebounds, dives on the floor...it’s huge.”
Wilkins finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds in a team-high 37 minutes of action, helping will the Hoos to a second-half comeback against a depleted Louisville roster. With Quentin Snider and Tony Hicks out of the lineup with injuries, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino suspended both Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel for breaking curfew.
“It’s kind of a bummer for us,” Perrantes said of the absences of Mathiang and Adel. “We kind of want to play teams when they’re at their best. We knew that they were hot coming in. I know they have some injuries, but they’re still playing extremely well...we just have to play whomever is in front of us.”
The Hoos got out to a sluggish start, falling behind as many as seven to the Cardinals as Louisville made contested shots and forced seven first-half turnovers. Virginia got a lift at the end of the first half as big man Jack Salt rebounded a missed free throw by Perrantes and got the follow up lay-in to fall, cutting Louisville’s break at the intermission to just two, at 34-32.
After the break, Virginia went to work, outscoring Louisville 39-21 in the second half. The Hoos dominated the Cardinals in the paint in the second stanza 20-4, highlighted by a series of athletic dunks by Darius Thompson, Mamadi Diakite, Devon Hall, and Wilkins. Louisville shot just 25% in the second half as the Hoos got red hot, hitting 59.1% of their shots.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett definitely liked what he saw from his defense in the second half. “I hope you guys liked it because I liked it a lot. I think that’s what we have to be. We few around and we jammed the lane. It was a challenge in the first half, they spread it out and attacked off the dribble. Yes, they were shorthanded...they’re talented and I don’t know if they got worn down or not. I just know the crowd was into it, Isaiah [Wilkins] was terrific with his activity. Jack [Salt] was, too, and our guys really tried to spread out and help each other. It wasn’t just one guy on the ball.”
The Hoos had a season-high tying eight blocks, led by Wilkins with a career-high tying five. Salt - who went 2-for-2 from the floor - was a defensive stalwart, limiting Louisville forward Anas Mahmoud to two points on 1-for-6 shooting and snagging six rebounds (four defensive). The Cardinals got an impressive performance from freshman forward VJ King who played 37 minutes and scored a game-high 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting (3-for-5 from three).
Donovan Mitchell: "We just got out-toughed. That's pretty much it. ... They basically just punked us, to be honest."— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) February 7, 2017
Perrantes led all Cavalier scorers with 18 points on 5-for-12 shooting, and a 6-for-7 performance from the free throw line.
“He’s got a good feel,” Bennett said of Perrantes’s ability to get to the line. “I felt we needed to try to attack and touch the paint and be assertive and make the right plays from there. He had a nice feel and he did draw some fouls, which was good.”
As has been the case all season, a third scorer stepped up for the Hoos, and tonight it was 6-4 guard Darius Thompson. After a stretch of limited playing time, Coach Bennett liked the length and athleticism Thompson brought to the matchup, and the third year performed with 10 points, four rebounds, and four assists - to just one turnover - in 20 minutes of action. Red shirt first year Mamadi Diakite also had a big game, contributing six points on 3-for-3 shooting with a rebound and two blocks.
Over the course of the first 11 minutes of the second half, Virginia outscored Louisville 20-5 as they looked smoother on offense and more confident defensively. After giving away a 12 point lead at Syracuse, the win over the Cardinals allowed the Hoos to right the ship quickly.
“It helps bouncing back from that tough loss.” Salt said. “It’s good to come back and get a win on the home floor. On to the next game.”
Next up, the Hoos head to Blacksburg on Sunday to take on Virginia Tech. Virginia took down the Hokies 71-48 in Charlottesville just five days ago, but will have a tougher test going to Cassel Coliseum where Virginia Tech has already knocked off Duke. Game tips at 6:30pm on ESPNU.