For the eighth straight year, the Virginia Cavaliers have sent their seniors out with a win in John Paul Jones Arena. This season, it was Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key with the sendoff, and Virginia came through with a dramatic 57-54 win over the No. 10 Louisville Cardinals.
With the win, Virginia locked in the No. 2 overall seed in the ACC tournament, and will play at 7pm on Thursday. The Hoos finished the regular season with a 23-7 record (15-5 ACC). The Hoos have also won eight straight games.
Kihei Clark was the star of the show with 18 points — including the dagger three with 30 seconds left — to go with five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Diakite finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, and a steal, and Key added six points, seven rebounds, and four assists in the win.
Jay Huff also finished with double-digits, giving the Hoos 11 points, five boards, and two blocks.
As a team, Virginia shot 41% from three and 29% from three. The Hoos turned it over just nine times, and Louisville only managed five points off of the turnovers. Defensively, Virginia forced the Cards into 13 TOs, and the Hoos poured in 16 points as a result. Virginia had seven steals and five blocks in the game.
Jordan Nwora led things for the Cardinals with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Louisville struggled from the field, going just 10-for-26 (38%) from two and 9-for-25 (36%) from three.
After both teams came up empty on their first possessions of the game, Diakite got things started with a jumper in the lane. Fittingly, fellow senior Key got the second bucket of the game after getting a friendly roll for the 4-0 lead. A dunk from Enoch got Louisville on the board, but Woldetensae rotated well under the basket and caused a turnover.
Clark pushed Virginia’s lead to 6-2 with a take in the lane, and Key skied for a rebound in the lane to give the Hoos a chance to pull away further. Woldetensae’s three wouldn’t fall, but McMahon missed one in response for the Cardinals. Enoch connected on Louisville’s first three of the game to make it 6-5, and McMahon followed with one of his own to give the Cards their first lead of the game.
As Virginia missed six straight shots, Louisville got a bucket from Sutton to extend its lead to 10-6 with 12:27 to play in the first half. Diakite ended a 4+ minute scoring drought with an emphatic dunk, keeping Virginia within a bucket.
Nwora’s first points of the game came from range, and his second in as many possessions pushed the Louisville lead to eight at 16-8. Morsell pushed the Hoos to double digits with a nice take and finish in the lane, and a Huff three from the top of the arc brought Virginia back within three.
Williamson got a tough shot to go over Stattmann to make it 18-13 with 7:43 left in the half. An alley-oop to Enoch gave Louisville a seven-point lead, but Key promptly cut it to five with a long two. A posterizing finish by Huff over Sutton led to a free throw for Huff as he was fouled mid-dunk. On the ensuing free throw, Nwora was called for a lane violation, infuriating Mack to the point of a technical. Clark made both, and then Huff hit his, completing the rare five-point play to tie the game.
Enoch followed a Nwora miss to give the Cards the lead right back, but — after a shot clock violation — Diakite tied things up with another tough long two. Clark put the Hoos back on top with a corner three, but Enoch slipped the defense for a two that made it 25-24, Virginia, with 3:22 to play.
Another forced turnover by the Virginia defense ended with Huff hitting two more free throws to push the Cavalier lead to three. Clark backed down McMahon in the lane for a turnaround, fade-away two, and the defense once again stood strong. Virginia extended the lead to 31-24 with two more free throws from Clark, and Louisville couldn’t connect despite and extended possession.
Huff had a great look at the buzzer, but it just rimmed out, sending Virginia into the break with a seven point lead. The Hoos used a 18-2 run over the final 6:41 of the half to turn a 20-13 deficit into a 31-24 lead.
Despite a slow stretch in the middle, Virginia shot 42% from the field for the first half. Most importantly, they only turned it over three times in the first half, leading to just two points for Louisville. Conversely, Louisville coughed the ball up eight times — four steals for the Hoos — and Virginia capitalized to the tune of 14 points.
Clark led Virginia over the first 20 minutes with 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists in 18 minutes. Enoch matched Clark with 11 points for Louisville.
Virginia got on the board first in the second half with a pull-up jumper from Clark, and Louisville responded with a bad miss from three. Woldetensae had a three rim out, but the Cards couldn’t take advantage. Diakite gave Virginia its first double-digit lead of the game with a gorgeous take on the baseline.
The two teams traded buckets/free throws, keeping Virginia’s advantage at nine. Huff went to the line, making one and giving the Hoos a 38-28 with 15:37 to play. Diakite corralled his own rebound and got it to go with the second effort.
Woldetensae finally got one to fall — on his fifth attempt — but the refs bit at a terrible flop from McMahon behind the arc and he made all three to cut Virginia’s lead to 43-32 with just over 13 minutes left. Key drew a foul, and made both, but Kimble snuck behind the defense for an easy layup.
Louisville cut the lead to 10 with 10:35 to play off of a Kimble made free throw, and Diakite came off the bench to end a 2+ minute scoring drought for the Hoos. Nwora took advantage of a broken play to can an open three to make it 47-38 in favor of the home team.
Another bucket for Nwora cut the lead to seven, but Clark ended a 2:11 scoring drought with two free throws with 8:03 to play to make it 49-40. Again Nwora connected from three — his fourth of the game — to carry the Cards back to within two possessions. Nwora’s 10th straight point for Louisville ramped up the anxiety in JPJ as the fans saw a once 12-point lead dwindle to four.
After another empty possession for the Cavaliers offensively, McMahon got a three to fall over Huff to make it a 49-48 Virginia lead with 5:42 to play. Diakite ended a 5:30+ field goal drought with a take in the lane, but Perry responded with a three to knot things at 51-51 with just over five minutes remaining.
Huff and Clark teamed up for a combo steal, but Woldetensae missed from distance to give Louisville another shot a taking the lead. The Virginia offense came up with nothing on back-to-back possessions (despite a tip out from Diakite), and Louisville regained possession with 2:37 left. Huff came up with a big block, and Nwora actually couldn’t get a three to fall on the kick-out.
Diakite gave Virginia a slim 52-51 lead at the line with 1:48 left on the clock, and the Cavalier defense came up with a big stop. Key tried to force a pass through traffic and turned it over with 1:09 to play.
Huff came up with an enormous steal as he just took the ball away from Enoch under the basket, and Clark pulled up for a huge three with 28 seconds left to play. Louisville tried a quick shot, but the Hoos grabbed the rebound. Diakite missed the front end of the one-and-one to build on the four-point lead, giving Louisville a glimmer of hope with 18 seconds remaining.
The Cards were unable to convert, and Diakite was able to salt the game away at the free throw line.