A month ago, Virginia Basketball was fighting for its NCAA tournament life. They were 7-4 in the ACC, having won three in a row including a win over top-ten Florida State. But going to Louisville to face another top-ten team was a daunting task for a team that simply did not look like it could hang with the “big boys”. They lost that Louisville game, but they haven’t lost since and have solidified an NCAA tournament berth and a top-4 finish in the ACC.
The Cardinals came out hot in that game, and led by 14 at halftime. The Hoos stormed back — largely due to some hot shooting from Tomas Woldetensae — and had a lead with under four minutes remaining. Louisville came back and made their free throws late to come away with a seven-point win. Here is our preview ahead of that game.
Despite the loss, that may have been the best Virginia has played all year. In the second half, Virginia looked about as good as we’ve seen this season. Following that game, Virginia went through its best offensive stretch of the season. This coincided with more hot shooting from outside. That hot shooting has seemingly ended, and Virginia had one of its worst offensive performances on Wednesday against Miami. Yes, they won, but scoring just 0.79 points per possession is really not going to cut it against good teams. Incidentally, Duke scored 0.79 points per game against Virginia. And, of course, lost.
Since that game a month ago, the Cardinals are just 3-3, with three home wins and three road losses. That, obviously bodes well for Virginia playing at JPJ. It’s also senior night for Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, which will surely make for an emotional afternoon.
In that first game, Jordan Nwora went off in the first half. He made four threes and was 6-for-9 overall. He had fifteen in the first half, but just seven after the break.
This is a tough shot, and Key’s defense isn’t bad. Nwora has almost no space.
Louisville also got a big game from both of their big men, Stephen Enoch and Malik Williams. Enoch did it from the floor, with moves like this.
Jay Huff is a very good shot blocker, but isn’t a good enough on-ball defender to keep Enoch out of the paint. Later on, Enoch had his way against Francisco Caffaro. In fact, down the stretch, Louisvile repeatedly went to Enoch rather than Nwora.
On this play, Diakite is on Nwora. Both Diakite and Key saw time on Nwora and likely will again on Saturday. Enoch doesn’t create his own offense very often, but he’s a capable shooter, good defender, and very strong rebounder on the glass. He averages just 20 minutes per game, but is second on the team in scoring.
Williams mostly hurt Virginia on the glass and at the FT line. He is doubtful for Saturday’s game due to an injury he’s been dealing with.
Louisville is very strong on both the offensive and defensive glass. Against Virginia, they rebounded 33% of their own misses. That’s a lot higher than we usually see from Virginia opponents. Stopping the Cardinals is hard enough, but giving them second chances killed the Hoos the first time out.
In the first matchup, Louisville went to some zone. Woldetensae lit it up from outside against the zone. He’s had trouble finding space over the past few games, as teams have started to focus on him. But if Louisville goes zone again, we could see Woldetensae get hot again.
That is an NBA length three. That pulls two Louisville defenders outside the three point line, which will open some things up inside.
If Virginia shoots the ball like they did last time against Louisville, they’ve got a chance. Louisville is too deep and talented offensively for Virginia to completely shut them down as they did Duke last week. Duke is a team that needs to get out and run and isn’t interested in a half-court slugfest. This Louisville team, under Chris Mack, is more than happy in a slugfest and has the outside shooting and interior game to stress the Pack Line. Better defense than last time will be important, but the Hoos have to perform offensively, as well.