For the third time in four years, the Virginia Cavaliers sit atop the ACC standings at the end of the regular season. The Hoos were picked to finish atop the league in the preseason and got there with a 68-58 win at Louisville (plus a little help from Notre Dame). Virginia finished the regular season with a 17-6 (13-4 ACC) record.
“At the start of the year, this was one of our goals,” Sam Hauser said after the game of winning the ACC regular season title, noting that they have way more they want to accomplish as a team.
Virginia will be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament that gets underway next week, and got a resume boosting win with their third road win against the top half of the ACC.
Hauser was outstanding on Saturday afternoon, pouring in 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting to go with eight rebounds, two blocks, and one assist. Trey Murphy (17 points) and Jay Huff (10 points, six rebounds, four blocks) also hit double digit scoring for the Cavaliers.
As a team, Virginia shot 52% from the field despite going just 3-for-15 (20%) from three. When Virginia got to the line, they went a perfect 11-for-11. Virginia turned it over just five times, leading to seven points for Louisville.
Defensively, Virginia swatted eight shots en route to holding Louisville to just 37% shooting from the field. The combination of Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman held Carlik Jones to just six points on 2-for-15 shooting, and it was overall one of Virginia’s better defensive performances of the season.
The Cavaliers got off to a hot start as the Hoos jumped out to a 10-point lead a little over halfway through the first half. Huff (six points) and Hauser (eight points) combined for 14 of Virginia’s first 18 points before the Cards rattled off an 11-4 run to close back within three.
Virginia’s defense held Louisville without a field goal for the final 4:22 of the first half, outscoring the Cards 6-2 to build a 28-21 lead heading into the break. Virginia shot 53% from the field while going 0-for-6 from three in the first half. The Hoos connected on 14-of-20 two-point attempts, led by Hauser with 10 and Huff with eight points and three blocks. Both Hauser and Huff had five first-half rebounds.
Louisville shot just 28% from the field and went 1-for-4 from three as the Virginia defense forced the Cards into tough shots.
The Cards cut into the lead with a layup to open the second half, but Hauser responded with two made free throws on the other end to keep the advantage at seven. Virginia built a 10-point lead again thanks to more pure shooting from Hauser and Huff. ACC Player of the Year candidate Carlik Jones got his first points of the day on a jumper with 16:51 left in the game, cutting Virginia’s lead to eight at 36-28.
Hauser hit Virginia’s first three of the game with 15:56 left in the game, but Louisville answered with a three of their own. Another tough two from Hauser gave the Hoos a nine-point lead heading into the under-16 timeout. A 6-0 run by the Cards made it a three-point game, but Hauser hit two at the line to make it 43-38 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game.
The defense came up with a big stop on Jones, and Hauser made Louisville pay with his second three of the half that quickly made it an eight point game once again. Right on cue, the Cards answered again, cutting the lead to five.
Murphy finally got a three to drop, but one again the Cards immediately responded with one of their own. Virginia’s fourth turnover of the game led to one made free throw by the Cards before Clark and Jones traded lay-ins to keep the Hoos ahead by four with 10 minutes left.
Woldetensae pushed the lead to seven with three free throws after being fouled on a three attempt, and McKoy got a big block on the other end. Murphy took advantage of an offensive rebound with a jumper to make it 56-47, but Williamson got a two to go to keep the Cards within reach.
Back-to-back buckets by McKoy — sandwiched around another great stop by the defense — gave Virginia its biggest lead of the game at 60-49 with 6:12 remaining. The Hoos got great minutes out of McKoy and Woldetensae in that stretch as Hauser and Huff got a much-needed break on the bench.
Beekman pushed the lead to 13 with two made free throws after a strong take in the lane. Louisville ended a scoring drought of 2:28 with an alley-oop, but Murphy responded with two more made free throws. A questionable offensive foul call on Hauser gave Louisville an extra possession, and they made the most with a follow-up layup by Quinn Slazinski to cut the lead to nine.
Neither team could connect until Beekman somehow got a shot to fall in the lane. Murphy blocked Jones into the third row, sending the teams into a media timeout with 1:44 left on the clock and the Hoos up 66-55. Withers’ second three of the game — he had made six for the season coming into the game — made it a single-digit game, but Murphy got a breakaway dunk to push it to 68-58.
Louisville couldn’t get any closer, and the Hoos were able to pick up a road win and secure the No. 1 overall seed in the ACC tournament.
Next up, Virginia will play in the ACC tournament against an opponent to be determined.