It didn’t come easy, but the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers secured the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament and at least a share of the ACC regular season crown thanks to a 73-68 win over the Louisville Cardinals. Virginia improved to 16-2 in the ACC with the win, and 28-2 overall. Louisville fell to 19-12 (10-8 ACC).
The win secured Virginia’s fourth regular season title in six seasons.
Louisville led by six with 10:43 to play and by one with 5:45 remaining until two free throws put the Hoos ahead for good. Ty Jerome led the Hoos with 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting (3-for-8 from three), and Kyle Guy added 13 points and a team-high six rebounds. Jay Huff was outstanding with nine points on a perfect 3-for-3 day from beyond the arc.
Virginia shot 40% from the field and 43% from three in the win, and only turned the ball over four times. Defensively, the Hoos forced 10 turnovers with seven steals and added six blocks.
The Cardinals shot 41% from the field and 36% from three. Louisville was efficient in transition with 12 fast-break points, and on the offensive boards with 14 second-chance points.
Louisville had four players in double-digits, led by Jordan Nwora with 19 points. Malik Williams, Dwayne Sutton, and Christen Cunningham all reached the 10-point mark.
Salt opened his final JPJ game with an assist to Guy in the corner for three to give the Hoos an early 3-0 lead. After a defensive stand that ended with a block from Hunter, Kihei Clark followed in the footsteps of Guy with a three of his own. Malik Williams got the Cardinals on the board with a three, but Guy couldn’t answer on the other end.
Williams tried his hand at another three, but it missed wide and Guy corralled the rebound. Hunter joined the three-point column with one of his own from the top of the arc, and Williams got the first two-point basket of the game to make it 9-5.
A live-ball turnover by Guy led to a fast break opportunity for Dwayne Sutton, but Salt fouled him to send him to the line for free throws. He made both, pulling Louisville back within two with 16:27 to play. Clark was unable to pull in a rebound, giving the Cards another look at tying the game or taking the lead. Jerome disrupted a pass, forcing a turnover.
Hunter pushed the lead back to four with a jumper, but Williams scored his seventh point (out of Louisville’s nine). Salt missed a shot, but made up for it on the defensive end with a monster block on Ryan McMahon. Jerome took advantage, popping a three to give Virginia at 14-9 lead. On the Hoos’ next offensive possession, Jerome canned his second three of the half to give Virginia an eight-point lead with 13:22 left.
McMahon got a three to go over the outstretched hand of Guy to end Virginia’s mini-run. Two free throws from Guy were answered with a put-back by Steven Enoch on a badly-missed three-point attempt from McMahon.
Louisville switched to a 1-3-1 zone, and Virginia came up empty on it’s next three trips, and McMahon hit another three to make it 19-17 with just under 10 minutes to play in the half. Key couldn’t get a shot to fall, but Jerome poked the ball loose to get the ball back for Virginia. The Hoos ended a 3:37 scoring drought with two free throws from Key that put Virginia up by four once again.
The Cards were called for a travel, and Jerome found a soft spot in the zone for an easy spot up jumper. Another three from Louisville — this time Jordan Nwora — brought the Cards back within three. Nwora added two more at the line to cut Virginia’s lead to 23-22 with 8:01 to play.
On Virginia’s next possession, Guy drove deep into the lane, was doubled, and still found space to kick it to Jay Huff at the top of the arc. Huff connected with a three that barely moved the net, and Louisville was called for a foul on the attempted rebound. The Hoos got the ball back, but Hunter was called for a foul underneath the basket to give the ball back to Louisville.
The Cards were unable to take advantage, but Virginia couldn’t extend its lead as Hunter couldn’t get a call on the way to the basket despite a lot of contact. Huff was whistled on the other end, sending Williams to the line where he made both to pull Louisville back within two with 6:28 to play in the half.
Louisville took its first lead of the game with a three from Nwora with 6:17 to play, but a tough shot from Hunter gave the lead right back to Virginia at 28-27. After Nwora missed a dunk attempt, the Hoos pushed the lead back to four as Jerome hit his third three of the half. On the next possession, Jerome called his own number with a drive down the lane and a high-arcing shot off the window to extend the lead to six.
The two squads traded misses before Jerome laced a pass to Mamadi Diakite with four seconds on the shot clock for an easy layup. Nwora couldn’t convert on a jumper, and Hunter added a free throw to give Virginia a 36-27 lead. Back-to-back makes from Christen Cunningham and Nwora cut the lead back to five, and Louisville had a chance to cut it closer before the half.
Enoch deposited an offensive rebound with less than four seconds left as Louisville closed the half on a 6-0 run to send the two teams into the break with Virginia leading 36-33.
Jerome led Virginia with 13 points, and Hunter added eight. Virginia shot 35% from the field and 41% from three in the first half, turning the ball over just twice.
Louisville shot 41% from the field and 42% (5-for-12) in the first half, led by Nwora’s 10 points. The Cards had just four turnovers, but Virginia turned them into six points. Louisville went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the first half, and got seven second chance points off of four offensive rebounds.
Hunter came up short on a long two on Virginia’s first possession of the second half, and Nwora came up with another tough basket over the defense to cut the Hoos’ lead to one. A steal and breakaway dunk by Sutton gave Louisville a 37-36 lead, and Hunter again came up short in the paint.
Salt fouled Sutton, who hit one-of-two from the line to give the Cards a two-point advantage with 18:23 to play. Jerome drew a foul, and made both free throws, tying the game at 38.
Nwora hit his third three (on as many attempts) to put the Cards back in front, and Jerome answered with a layup cut Louisville’s lead to one. Back-to-back threes from Sutton and Williams gave Louisville a seven-point advantage before Guy hit a three to close back within four.
A steal from Hunter led to a tough bucket in the lane from Jerome, cutting Louisville’s lead back to two points. With the crowd roaring, Clark was called for a foul on Cunningham as the latter tried to bring the ball up the court. The Virginia defense forced a turnover, and Clark found Diakite wide open for a dunk to tied the game at 47.
Louisville missed its first shot of the second half on its next possession, but Virginia couldn’t retake the lead as Hunter’s shot rimmed out. Two offensive rebounds by the Cards got them another look at the bucket, and Sutton put Louisville back ahead by two.
Clark tied the game once more with a take in the lane, but Cunningham drew a foul on Diakite. He missed both, leaving the game tied and giving Virginia a chance to retake the lead. Guy got a good look, but it wouldn’t fall and a Cunningham fast break put Louisville ahead once more.
Cunningham beat Clark on the drive to make it 53-49 with 11:27 remaining. The Hoos couldn’t take advantage of a huge offensive rebound from Key, and Huff sent Louisville to the line for a 1-and-1. Enoch made both, putting the Cards back in front 55-49 with 10:43 to lay.
Huff connected on his second three of the game to answer Louisville’s 6-0 run, igniting the crowd and the Cavalier defense as the Hoos forced a shot clock violation. Virginia grabbed two offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive, the second one from Guy as he put it back up to make it a one-point game once again.
On Louisville’s next possession, Huff swatted Cunningham’s shot out of bounds. After getting the ball in, Guy forced a jump ball, giving the Hoos possession with a chance to retake the lead. Hunter had his shot blocked, and another jump ball gave the possession back to Louisville.
Another call on Huff put Enoch back at the line, and he put the Cards back up by three with 8:10 to play. Louisville fouled Hunter mid-shot, sending him to the line where he made one to make it 57-55. Nwora continued his hot day, getting a bucket to put the Cards back up by two possessions.
Guy got a three to go from the corner to keep Virginia within striking distance as the clock ticked through seven minutes remaining. The Cavaliers forced a turnover, and Key connected from the corner to give Virginia a two-point lead. Cunningham tied the game, then gave Louisville the lead back with the and-one opportunity after being fouled on the shot.
It looked as thought Louisville got a steal, but Sutton was whistled for the foul and Jerome went to the line for a 1-and-1. He made both, putting the Hoos up 63-62 with 5:32 to play. After a traveling violation on Nwora, Bennett subbed Huff back in for Diakite in an offense-defense play, and it paid off in spades as Huff hit his third three of the game to put Virginia up 66-62.
Louisville came up empty on their next trip, but Jerome couldn’t extend the lead after missing the front end of another 1-and-1 free throw opportunity. Williams missed badly on a three, and Jerome pulled up from the free throw line for a jumper and a six point Virginia lead with 3:29 remaining.
Despite an offensive possession with four rebounds, Louisville was unable to cut into Virginia’s lead. Key’s three wouldn’t go from the corner with two seconds left on the shot clock, and Nwora somehow got a tough shot to fall over Hunter’s outstretched hand to make it 68-64. Jerome missed a three, but hustled back on defense and forced a turnover to give the Hoos a chance to burn more clock and extend the lead.
Key was fouled driving the lane, and made one to give Virginia a five-point lead with 1:11 left to play. Enoch missed a three for the Cards, and Key pulled in his fourth rebound of the game on the miss.
Louisville started fouling with 40 seconds remaining, sending Key back to the line for two shots. He made one, giving Virginia a 70-64 lead. Nwora missed a three attempt, and the refs called it Louisville ball. After another miss from the Cards and a rebound from Key, Virginia kept possession thanks to a held ball.
The Cards fouled Key after the inbounds play, and this time he made both to give Virginia a 72-64 lead. A foul called on Guy sent Cunningham to the line for two shots, but he only made one. With 13 seconds left, Jerome went to the line and pushed Virginia’s lead to 73-65. Louisville made a three, but the Hoos inbounded the ball and were able to run out the clock for the win.
After the game, the team took the court to celebrate the regular season title by cutting down the net, with Jack Salt going last.
Next up, Virginia heads to Charlotte for the ACC tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the Hoos will play Thursday at 12:30.