March 8, 2018 at 5:07 PM
NEW YORK — This time the Virginia men’s basketball team didn’t need five points in less than a second to complete a victory over Louisville.
Top-seeded Virginia (29-2) advanced to play No. 4 seed Clemson on Friday night at Barclays Center. The Cavaliers won the only meeting between the teams during the regular season, 61-36, on Jan. 23 in Charlottesville, surrendering their fewest points in a game this year.
To reach the semifinals, the Cavaliers closed on a 19-6 run during which they held Louisville (20-13) to one field goal over nearly nine minutes, blunting a rally that had drawn the Cardinals within 56-52.
By the time guard Kyle Guy converted a three-point play with 2:35 to go, Virginia owned a 69-54 lead. The sophomore finished with a game-high 19 points while wearing a brace on his left knee to protect a sprained medial collateral ligament suffered in Saturday’s regular season finale.
“They made a nice run to cut it to four, and we answered, and we got enough stops, and guys made some good plays,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said after a third win against Louisville this season. “We’ve played them three times, and we know how they can pull up and hit shots and touch the paint, so I think we just tightened up a little more.”
Redshirt senior guard Devon Hall scored 14 points, and freshman De’Andre Hunter added 12 points, including a one-handed dunk to punctuate Virginia’s seventh consecutive win in the series, one that further clouds the Cardinals’ NCAA tournament fortunes.
Virginia had five players score in double figures, getting most of their points in the paint, where the Cavaliers held a 42-16 advantage.
Ahead by 11 at halftime, the Cavaliers bumped the lead to 54-41 shortly before the second television timeout of the second half, turning back several attempts by Louisville to draw within two possessions.
The Cavaliers concluded three straight trips with three points each time, starting when Hunter made a layup and drew a foul. The redshirt freshman made the bonus free throw, and Guy and Hunter sank three-pointers, providing enough of a cushion to withstand the Cardinals’ comeback bid.
Forward Ray Spalding led Louisville with 16 points. The Cardinals shot just 37 percent, marking the 30th time this season Virginia has limited an opponent to less than 50 percent.
“Most of the time, it was us having a conversation of coming out and punching first,” Hall said. “When we played there at Louisville, they kind of hit us in the mouth, and we kind of had to respond. “
Hall was referring to the improbable comeback on senior day at KFC Yum! Center one week ago when Virginia won, 67-66, by scoring five points in nine-tenths of a second of game time, capped by Hunter’s three-pointer at the buzzer.
The loss was another disheartening episode for Louisville during a season filled with off-the-court turmoil.
Last month, the program was forced to vacate its 2013 national championship along with its 2012 Final Four appearance and 122 wins under former coach Rick Pitino in the wake of a scandal in which an assistant coach provided strippers and prostitutes to players and potential recruits.
Pitino was fired by Louisville just before the start of the season amid an unrelated federal investigation into corruption charges at Louisville and several other college basketball programs. David Padgett, an assistant on Pitino’s staff, has since served as interim coach.
“Without a doubt,” Padgett said when asked if Louisville deserves an NCAA tournament berth. “Unfortunately that’s not my decision, but if you look at our overall body of work, we haven’t done anything wrong. I think that’s getting lost a lot in the shuffle this year is people used to put a lot of emphasis on quote-unquote bad losses. Well, we don’t have any of those.”
This season, meanwhile, continues to hum along for the Virginia, which opened a double-figure lead in the first half on Thursday on the strength of a 17-3 push that began with Guy’s three-pointer.
Guy made a jumper and another three-pointer shortly after, and layups from Isaiah Wilkins, Jack Salt and Ty Jerome grew the lead to 33-19. The Cavaliers’ largest margin in the first half was 17 points twice, and they led at intermission, 38-27.
Recently voted all-ACC first team, Guy (7-for-14 shooting, 4 of 6 three-pointers) has scored in double figures in every game against Louisville this season, including 22 during a 74-64 victory Jan. 31 at John Paul Jones Arena.
“All week in practice I was just trying to get used to it,” Guy said of playing with a knee brace, adding he has never had a serious injury at any level in his basketball career. “There’s definitely a mental part of it where you sort of feel safe with it on. Like I said, it doesn’t really bother me much.”
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