By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Never mind that the Louisville men’s basketball team isn’t nationally ranked. The Cardinals are long, tall, quick and talented, a combination that worried Virginia’s coaches as game time approached.
Their concerns proved valid. Louisville became the first team to shoot 50 percent from the floor against the Cavaliers this season and scored 64 points Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
For Virginia, which leads the nation in scoring defense, that’s like giving up “100 points,” sophomore guard Kyle Guy said with a smile.
At the final horn, though, the second-ranked Wahoos were the ones celebrating at JPJ. Virginia shot 53.7 percent from the floor and turned the ball over only seven times in a nationally televised 74-64 victory.
“If you would have told me we would come in here and shoot 50 percent and score 64 points, I would have liked our chances,” said David Padgett, Louisville’s interim head coach, “but sometimes the other team just makes more shots than you do, so you’ve got to give them all the credit in the world. There’s a reason they’re No. 2 in the country, and it showed tonight.”
The victory was the 13th straight for the ‘Hoos (21-1 overall, 10-0 ACC), who were coming off a stirring win over No. 4 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Sophomore guard Ty Jerome hit a pivotal 3-pointer from NBA range in the final minute against the Blue Devils, and he provided more late-game heroics Wednesday night.
After Louisville (16-6, 6-3) rallied to cut a 13-point deficit to five, the 6-5 Jerome hit back-to-back treys, each with the shot clock close to expiring. The first came over the outstretched arms of 6-10 Ray Spalding, who Padgett said has a 7-5 wingspan.
“You’ve got to guard him at the NBA 3-point line,” Padgett said when asked about Jerome. The shot over Spalding was difficult, but “that’s what [Jerome] does,” Padgett said, “and that’s why he’s a heck of a basketball player: because he makes big shots for them.”
UVA head coach Tony Bennett said: “I’d like to say that’s just this great engineering of the offense, but that’s guys making plays.”
Jerome, who finished with 16 points and a career-high nine assists, wasn’t the only standout for Virginia. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy scored a game-high 22 points, and fifth-year guard Devon Hall, who missed practice with flu-like symptoms Monday, as did redshirt sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite, totaled 12 points, two assists and two steals in 34 minutes.
“Devon’s a warrior,” Bennett said.
Make that a weary warrior. “Tired,” Hall said when asked afterward how he felt.
And then there was freshman guard Marco Anthony, who supplied an unexpected but invaluable boost on a night when fifth-year senior guard Nigel Johnson watched in street clothes from the UVA bench.
Bennett announced about 30 minutes before tipoff that Johnson, a transfer from Rutgers, was suspended for three games for violating team rules. That left the Cavaliers perilously thin in the backcourt and created an opportunity for Anthony, who had played a total of six minutes in ACC games.
Against Louisville, he played 18, and they were crucial as Virginia ran its winning streak in this series to five games. The 6-4 Anthony finished with 10 points. His previous high as a Cavalier? Five points against Savannah State in a 78-47 win.
“I’m so happy for Marco,” Bennett said. “What a lift he gave us. He works, he puts in his time. He reminds me of Devon in that regard, and we needed it all.”
Anthony, who’s from San Antonio, Texas, hit 4 of 6 shots from the floor, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.
“Louisville is a tough team to get thrown into the fire [against] in this setting, but he was very poised,” Bennett said. “That’s a credit to him, and he’s a fine young man.”
Jerome said: “I think that’s such a hard spot to be in. He didn’t really play much all year, and to come in against a team like that and deliver like that, it’s amazing. I don’t think many people could do that. I told him how proud of him I was.”
The left-handed Anthony’s first shot was a pull-up jumper from the right baseline with the shot clock about to expire. It dropped through to push Virginia’s lead to 16-10 at the 8:21 mark of the first half. “It helps a lot,” Anthony said of making his first shot.
Guy said he wasn’t surprised by Anthony’s performance. “He’s just one of those guys that just really waits his turn and bides his time and is ready and focused at all times. You saw that on the court tonight.”
On a superb night for the Cavaliers’ reserves, Diakite and redshirt freshman forward De’Andre Hunter came off the bench to contribute six points apiece. Hunter sprained his ankle late in the Duke game and missed practice Monday. He played only 17 minutes against Louisville.
“I would have played De’Andre some on the perimeter,” Bennett said, “but I just didn’t think that he needed all those minutes [with a tender ankle], and Marco showed that he deserved those minutes.”
Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds for Virginia. Wilkins continues to struggle with his shot — he’s 3 for 15 from the floor in his past four games — but he brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk in the final minute, after which he nearly forced a Louisville turnover.
These teams will meet again on March 1 at the KFC Yum! Center. UVA can expect another battle in Louisville. The Cavaliers know they’re the hunted these days.
“There’s going to be a heightened sense of focus and readiness that every opponent is going to come after you with,” Bennett said.
“You gotta lace ’em up tight, and you better be into it. And if we get caught flat-footed, because teams are going to come at us with that kind of concentration, we’ll be in trouble.”
Jerome said: “We’re going to get every team’s best shot now, we know that, but we should have heightened focus every game. Our focus should be at 100 percent every time we step on the floor, whether it’s a practice or a game, no matter the previous result.”
COMMANDING LEAD: Louisville came to Charlottesville as the ACC’s second-place team. The Cardinals left in fourth place. Duke (19-3, 7-3) and Clemson (18-4, 7-3), each of which Virginia has beaten, are tied for third.
Every team in the ACC except UVA has at least three conference losses.
THEY SAID IT: Their victory moved the Cavaliers to 10-0 in ACC play for the first time since 1980-81, Ralph Sampson’s sophomore season. Among the postgame comments from both sides:
* Bennett on Anthony: “He’s a worker. He works, works, works. I don’t know if it’s because he is from down south in Texas or what, but he just has a slow, easy way about him, and that served him well today.” * Hall on Anthony: “He works his butt off, so I’m so happy for him to be able to see him go out there and play that well.”
* Anthony on whether he was nervous against Louisville: “No, sir. I’m real confident in myself, because of all the hard work I put in, so it’s just being ready for the moment.”
* Bennett on the 6-2, 175-pound Guy, who played 38 minutes Wednesday night: “He has a big motor. It seems like he can go [forever]. People bump him and do a lot of things, but he’s kind of tireless, and he usually doesn’t want to come out.”
* Jerome on Guy, UVA’s leading scorer this season: “He’s talented. He’s sneaky athletic. A lot of people don’t give him credit for it, because of his frame probably, but he’s athletic.”
* Padgett: “Our guys competed for every single second of those 40 minutes. It’s a game where you literally have to tip your hat to the other team and say they just made big plays and big shots … They have guys that make big plays at big times. There’s no doubt about that.”
* Bennett on Spalding, a junior who hit 8 of 10 shots from the floor, pulled down seven rebounds and led Louisville with 16 points: “He’s special.”
WHAT’S NEXT? Eight regular-season games remain for the ‘Hoos. The next two are on the road, against Syracuse (15-7, 4-5) on Saturday and Florida State (16-6, 5-5) next Wednesday.
Virginia defeated Syracuse 68-61 in Charlottesville on Jan. 9.
UVA, 14-0 at JPJ this season, will be back home on Saturday, Feb. 10, to host Virginia Tech (16-6, 5-4) at 6:15 p.m. That game will be shown on ESPN.
For information on tickets to home games, click here.