It seems like every other game in the ACC is a top 10 clash. Louisville coming to Charlottesville was no different, as number 3 Virginia, also leading the conference, handed the Cardinals a 52-47 loss to move a bit closer towards securing a second consecutive regular season title.
These are good days for the Cavaliers and Tony Bennett, who led Virginia to the conference double last season, something no one has ever achieved with this program. With just one loss this season (to Duke), Virginia are still on top of the ACC and combining the win over Louisville to Duke beating Notre Dame, Virginia now have a two-loss lead over four different teams, although it hasn’t been a pretty road to the top spot.
Some teams win with offense. Others with other things. Virginia shot only 33.3% from the field and 14.3% from beyond the arc. However, they held the Cardinals to 37% from the field and 21.4% from 3-point range. Virginia also turned the ball over just twice, having no problem breaking the full court press we’re used to seeing from Louisville. With a +9 on the turnover margin and so few possessions for both teams, it’s hard to lose a game.
Despite the absence of Justin Anderson in the second half who is out for five to six weeks, Virginia found ways to get their offense going, more or less.. Malcolm Brogdon scored 15 points, most of them from the line. Mike Tobey scored nine points and so did Darion Atkins. Anthony Gill scored 10 points off the bench. Louisville managed to get their backcourt to work with 27 combined points from Terry Rozier and Chris Jones; Montrezl Harrell added 12 points. But their bench finished with a big, useless 0. Even though this is college basketball, you need some contribution from the bench.
We worked really hard for three days at a way to beat their defense and then ignored it in the first half. Their defense is awesome. I won’t take anything away from them, but our offense was ridiculous. The first half was particularly embarrassing for Louisville, held to just 13 points, while shooting 4-of-21 from the field and turning the ball over six times. Only three players managed to put points on the board during the first 20 minutes.
The fans inside the John Paul Jones Arena help out as well. The longer the possession goes and the seconds tick off the shot clock, the more tense the atmosphere becomes; the louder it gets. It might be something that you’d expect from almost any successful college basketball home court, but it does feel sometimes like this arena is a lot smaller than it actually is. The defense Tony Bennett has perfected over the years helps that effect carry over.
Whether or not Virginia are a team that has it in them to win a national championship won’t be revealed in the conference play. Their non-conference schedule wasn’t as tough as most high ranked teams had it. Their style makes almost every game close, and not having the ability to run an opponent off the floor might come to harm and be the ruin of them again, just like in their two point loss to Michigan State last year in the Sweet 16.