The improbable happened today in University Hall. In a role reversal of teams with two of the best records in college basketball for the past decade, Virginia beat Louisville, 74-65, with a full-court press.
After the victory, Virginia players said the defensive strategy wasn't in the Cavaliers' game plan. But early in the game, Louisville, thwarting Virginia's half-court game, took a 23-13 lead.
"The Louisville zone was giving us a lot of trouble," Virginia Coach Terry Holland said. "We got the ball inside, but they made us change the arc of our shots. We had to get some easy baskets."
So, with newly established point guard Tom Calloway leading the way, Holland played a lineup using two 6-foot-5 forwards. With Calloway getting two steals, Louisville committed seven turnovers in its next eight possessions, and Virginia scored 14 straight points to go ahead, 27-23.
Then, in the second half, a press and man-to-man defense helped the Cavaliers to a 10-2 run that gave them a 48-41 lead with 10 minutes left. Louisville closed to 62-61 after the Cardinals' own press resulted in three back court turnovers by Virginia in five possessions.
But the Cavaliers adjusted and made their free throws in the end, finishing with 26 in 29 attempts. The key free throws were two by Tim Mullen with 1:07 left, giving Virginia a 65-61 lead.
Although these teams are among the eight with the best won-loss percentages in college basketball the last 10 years, they have struggled this season. Virginia's young team (12-11) is slowly overcoming its inconsistency and Louisville is hampered by the absence of a floor leader.
Senior Milt Wagner, one of the country's top guards, broke a foot in December. Soon thereafter, freshman guard Kevin Walls, the nation's leading high school scorer as a senior and Wagner's heir apparent, suffered a season-ending knee injury.
One more loss by Louisville (11-11) and the Cardinals will have their most defeats in 44 years. Crum, who has won at least 20 games in each of his 13 seasons at the school, earlier this week called his team's chances of another 20-victory season "slim and none."
"We made them come out of their zone, and then we couldn't do a good job against their man-to-man," said Crum. "They played good defense and put pressure on us. That's been our big problem all year long. We don't really have a ball-handling guard."
Calloway, who grew up in Charlottesville but was not recruited by Virginia, made the difference. He had nine points, five assists and keyed Virginia's defense.
Cavaliers center Olden Polynice and reserve forward Mel Kennedy each scored 18 points and starting forward Tom Sheehey had 15. Guard Jeff Hall had 15 for Louisville.
A basket by Billy Thompson (12 points, nine rebounds) had given Louisville a 23-13 lead when Virginia switched defenses. Holland had Kennedy and Dan Merrifield at forward, with freshman Darrick Simms and Calloway at guard.
That produced the 14-0 run in which Louisville got only two shots. The streak was completed when Calloway left his man, stole the ball from Thompson and dribbled in from half court for a layup and a 27-23 lead.
"I'm gaining more confidence in myself," Calloway said. "I'm learning not to be passive and attack more."
Virginia led, 39-38, early in the second half before gaining control. After Mullen's only basket of the game started a 10-2 run, Calloway took advantage of a Louisville turnover and scored on a short jumper. He also accounted for the final five points of the streak, all by Sheehey.
Calloway passed to him for a dunk and three-point play. Then Merrifield stole the ball off the ensuing press, and Calloway fed Sheehey for another layup and a 48-41 lead.
At the end, Louisville fouled the wrong man (Mullen), and then the Cardinals missed jump shots on three straight possessions. That left them no chance to set up the full-court press they've made famous over the years.
Holland was left to talk about his newly feared defensive lineup and the Cavaliers' prospects the rest of the season.
"As a group, that's our best defensive team. They complement each other so well. They give us a chance to do some things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise," Holland said. "If we can survive the schedule, we'll be as good as anyone else (in the Atlantic Coast Conference) come tournament time. We're getting more consistent play. It's gradually coming."