Virginia built a 19-point first half lead over a Louisville team it had beaten in 11 of the last 12 meetings. Easy night, right?
No such thing for these Cavaliers.
Coming off one of its worst defensive outings of the season against North Carolina State, UVa played vintage Tony Bennett Pack Line defense in the first half Monday, then held off the Cardinals for a 64-52 win at John Paul Jones Arena.
“We really came out with a strong start,” said forward Jayden Gardner. “We really got after them. We just played Virginia basketball tonight.”
UVa (12-8, 6-4 ACC) still has not lost back-to-back games this season.
Guard Kihei Clark scored 15 points on his birthday, forward Jayden Gardner added 14, and Virginia held Louisville to 37.5% shooting from the floor.
Forward Kadin Shedrick, one of only two Cavaliers to come off the bench, scored 11, including a pair of dunks to put Virginia’s lead up to 56-47 with 3:32 to play.
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Guard Armaan Franklin added 10 points, as UVa had four players reach double figures for the second time in ACC play this year.
“I thought we were crisp,” said Bennett, after his team assisted on 20 of its 24 made baskets. “Found different things. Moved well without the ball.… Kihei got us off to a nice start.”
Guard Reece Beekman only scored two points but had seven rebounds and 11 assists, the most by an ACC player this season.
Guard Jarrod West led Louisville (11-9, 5-5) with 14 points off the bench.
UVa has played six games decided five points or fewer, and is 4-2 in those, including 4-0 in ACC contests that tight. Despite leading 27-8 with 6:25 left in the first half, it found itself clinging to a 5-point edge with 5:29 to play, before finishing off the slumping Cardinals, who have lost five of their last six.
Clark helped get Virginia off to an effective and efficient offensive start, scoring seven of his 15 points in the first 6:37 of play. He hit a 3-pointer with 7:51 to play that pushed UVa’s lead to 52-41, then flashed a 3-sign to the crowd.
It gave Virginia some separation in a game that looked, in the first half, like it might be a laugher.
Virginia hit its first four shots from the floor, getting out to an 11-3 lead in the first 3:31 of the game. It was encouraging start at both ends of the floor, as the Cavaliers didn’t commit a turnover nor allow a second-chance point in the first 8:05 of play, as they build a 22-5 edge.
Louisville hit just one of its first 10 attempts from 3-point range, a far cry from the barrage of 3s UVa allowed its last time out.
In Virginia’s 77-63 loss at North Carolina State on Saturday, a game that saw it allow a season high in points, the Wolfpack hit 12 shots from 3-point range.
But Monday night, the Cardinals found no such success.
“It was a better effort, all around, tonight,” said Bennett.
A late surge by Louisville trimmed UVa’s halftime lead to 35-23, but the home team couldn’t have asked for a much better opening 20 minutes. It held the Cardinals to 34.6% shooting, a 4-for-15 showing from 3-point range, and scored 10 points of five Louisville turnovers.
Virginia led by as many as 19 before the break.
The Cardinals, led by West and Matt Cross, opened the second half attacking the rim and cut Virginia’s lead to 42-34, aided by three turnovers by the Cavaliers in the first 4:22 of the period.
Louisville got within two shots, down 45-41 with 11:54 to go, before UVa answered with back-to-back baskets in the paint by Shedrick and Gardner.
Virginia doesn’t play again until Saturday’s game at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, who have won eight of their last games, host North Carolina State on Wednesday, the first of three straight home games for Notre Dame.