During the 2015-16 season, Virginia has struggled with two things: getting off to decent starts and playing on the road. The No. 11 Cavaliers found a way to overcome those struggles as they jumped out to a big early lead against No. 16 Louisville and cruised from there in an impressive 63-47 road ACC win on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier this week, Virginia needed a prayer of a buzzer-beater from Darius Thompson to earn an unlikely comeback road win over Wake Forest and that was the second true road win for the Cavaliers this season after falling to teams like Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Florida State in ACC play. So people were a little bit skeptical with how Virginia would play at the KFC Yum! Center; one of the biggest and loudest arenas in college basketball.
Virginia (17-4, 6-3) responded by completely shutting down Louisville’s offense and taking them out of their comfort zone as their tenacious defense was in effect from the opening tip. The defense for the Cavaliers held Louisville to 32 percent shooting (16-for-49) for the game while forcing 18 turnovers. They also held the potent duo of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to only 10 points on the afternoon.
From there, Virginia’s offense was balanced and didn’t need to do much scoring since Louisville couldn’t get anything going in the scoring column. Malcolm Brodgon and Anthony Gill led the Cavaliers with 13 points each as Virginia shot 57 percent (26-for-45) from the field.
Louisville (17-4, 6-2) was led by 12 points and seven rebounds from Raymond Spalding and another 12 from Deng Adel as the two freshmen paced the Cardinals offense. The loss at home was the worst ever in the Yum! Center for Louisville and it makes you wonder how they’ll fare against the other elite teams of the ACC?
Up until this point, Louisville has played a relatively easy schedule, as Michigan State, Kentucky and Pitt have been their toughest opponents to date. Against Virginia, Louisville just didn’t look prepared to face a talented team that could execute and take them out of their game plan. The Cardinals offense struggled immediately and looked defeated before halftime.
There is still plenty of time for Louisville to correct things in the next few weeks, but this wasn’t a promising sign for the Cardinals’ ACC hopes this season. It won’t get any easier for Louisville the next few games as they host North Carolina and also go on the road to Duke and Pitt within their next four games. That stretch should really tell us where Louisville is heading into the stretch run and it’ll be important to see how they respond against the Tar Heels at home.
As for Virginia, this one was important because it finally felt like we were watching the Virginia team we’ve been expecting for much of this season. Getting over the hump with that road win at Wake Forest earlier this week might have loosened up the Cavaliers enough to give them the confidence to dominate Louisville from start-to-finish and now they have a winnable stretch of games before a road game at Duke on Feb. 13. Virginia is still three games behind North Carolina in the loss column, but they at least looked like one of the ACC’s elite teams in this one after struggling to beat some of the league’s bottom feeders away from home.