In boxing there’s the old adage of “styles make fights,” with those styles either producing instant classics or absolute mismatches. When it comes to No. 4 Virginia and No. 11 Louisville this season, it was clear in their two meetings that the Cavaliers were a bad matchup for the Cardinals. Saturday night Tony Bennett’s team completed a sweep of the season series with a 68-46 win in Charlottesville, and it was Virginia’s seniors who led the way.
Malcolm Brogdon, who is seen by many as the favorite to earn ACC Player of the Year honors next week, scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and Anthony Gill added 15 points and four rebounds. But the senior star on this night was none other than Mike Tobey, who scored 15 points and corralled a staggering 20 rebounds on the night.
Tobey became the first Virginia player since Travis Watson in 2003 to grab at least 20 boards in a game, and his total was just eight fewer than Louisville tallied as a team. The rebounding number was just one aspect of this beating, a game in which Virginia controlled the action in all areas. Virginia committed 13 turnovers but shot 51.3 percent from the field, supplementing their scoring from the field with a 23-for-30 night from the foul line.
As for the defense, that was the biggest reason why Virginia is a bad matchup for Louisville. The Cavaliers limited the Cardinals to 27.6 percent shooting from the field, with Louisville getting just 14 attempts from the foul line (making ten). Gill’s ability as a defender in ball screens is well-known by this point, but he wasn’t the only Virginia big man who performed well.
Louisville’s guards were unable to turn the corner, and on many occasions the ball stayed on one side of the floor as a result. Quality shots were tough to come by, as one would expect when playing against Virginia’s pack line defense, and Louisville struggled mightily. In the first meeting, the Cardinals shot 32.7 percent from the field and had many of the same issues. Much was made of Virginia’s defense earlier this season and the underrated impact of Darion Atkins’ departure, and there was some work to be done when it came to how big men other than Gill defended in ball screen actions.
There were no such issues Saturday night, and as a result the Cavaliers will be the two-seed at next week’s ACC tournament. And if they can continue to defend at this level, Tony Bennett’s team will have a good shot at winning their second ACC tournament in the last three years.