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The Big Preview: Analyzing Louisville with an ode to Kihei Clark

Previewing tomorrow afternoon’s regular season finale while touching on the legend that is Kihei Clark.

NCAA Men’s Final Four - National Championship - Texas Tech v Virginia Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Senior Day is always a big deal and always a bit of an emotional affair. That may be even more so this year, as Kihei Clark will be spending his final moments playing for the Virginia Cavaliers in JPJ (despite not actually being honored as a part of the Senior Day ceremonies after he did so last season). Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, Francisco Caffaro, and Chase Coleman will all be honored. With apologies to Franklin (who may be back next year) and Gardner, none of those guys have had near the impact that Clark has had on this program.

Clark’s name is written all over the Virginia record book. He is the Hoos’ all-time leader in games, minutes, starts, wins, and assists. He’s also pushing the top-20 in points, threes, steals, and three point percentage. None of that really touches the impact that he’s had on this program.

Considering the stakes, the situation, and the fact that he was a freshman on a team full of veterans, this has to be one of the best passes in basketball history. Without this play, the Championship doesn’t happen. And that is why Clark will be fondly remembered by Wahoo fans.

This season, Kihei’s been a leader off the court, but, more importantly, he’s been a huge contributor on the court. He’s third on the team in scoring, first in assists, second in steals, and second in three point percentage. He almost single-handedly beat Duke, scoring 16 points on 7/10 shooting from the field. In the second half, with Duke in the lead and Virginia on one of their patented extended scoring droughts, Clark took over the game.

Duke had opened up a five point lead at this point. Clark is on an iso against a much bigger defender in Jacob Grandison. No screen, no ball-fake. Just a quick guard beating his man to the rack. Clark would score twice more on similar moves over the next two minutes, keeping Virginia in a game that they would ultimately win in overtime.

My favorite Kihei highlight, other than the pass, is this game winner against Virginia Tech.

Kihei was the only ball-handler on that team, and they relied so heavily on him to generate looks. Tech was clearly expecting Kihei to drive and kick or hit somebody coming off a screen. The step-back took them by surprise and, of course, Kihei knocks the shot down.

Tomorrow’s game is against Louisville. Here’s our preview of the first Louisville matchup. Louisville reached their apex this season when they beat Clemson two weeks ago. They’ve been blown out three times in the three games since.

Louisville gave Virginia a game in the last one, but it was mainly due to poor play from Virginia. That was, maybe, the beginning of the malaise which culminated in the back-to-back losses to BC and UNC. Louisville did play well, especially shooting the ball.

This isn’t much more than a prayer late in the shot clock. But it dropped. The Cardinals rank 232nd nationally in three point shooting, but shot 40% against the Hoos. Jae’Lyn Withers, a 6’9” 220 wing, is their only consistent threat from outside. And he shot 1/7 against Virginia. It was the guards knocking down shots.

Virginia was led by Franklin (14 points on eight field goal attempts) and Kihei (14 on 11 shots), with Ben Vander Plas adding 10 points and 11 rebounds. You may be surprised to hear that Kihei hit the shot that put the Hoos in the lead for good.

Splash. This looks a lot like the game winner above.

This game should not be a huge challenge for the ‘Hoos. It seems like Louisville has largely given up. The question for Wahoo fans is about the front-court rotation. How much will Ryan Dunn play? The Hoos seem more exciting with Dunn on the court. Will Kadin Shedrick get into the game at all? His fall in the rotation has been shocking.

The main concern for Tony Bennett is a slow start after the emotional senior night ceremony causing the ‘Hoos to fall into a hole. A hot start, on the other hand, may well cause Louisville to lose focus and stop playing hard. An easy win to clinch a share of the ACC title and the #2 seed in the conference tournament would be very nice heading into the postseason.