- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2018

NEW YORK — This one didn’t come down to bizarre last-second miscues.

No. 1 Virginia led for the final 32 minutes and beat ninth-seeded Louisville 75-58 in the quarterfinal round of the ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center.

The game was a rematch of a regular-season meeting in Louisville last week, when the Cavaliers capitalized on errors and scored five points in the final 0.9 seconds to come back and stun the Cardinals.

Kyle Guy posted game highs in points (19) and rebounds (seven) to lead Virginia. Guy played with a brace on his left knee after he suffered a sprained MCL in Saturday’s regular season finale.

Four other Cavaliers scored in double figures, including Mamadi Diakite, who came off the bench to add 10 points in 17 minutes. Devon Hall had a game-high five assists to go with 14 points. In typical Virginia fashion, the Cavaliers shot 52.5 percent from the floor while holding the Cardinals to 36.7 percent and outrebounded them 34-25.

“We got enough stops and guys made some good plays,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Because they played them three times, we know how they can pull up and hit shots and touch the paint.”

The top-ranked team in the country will face fourth-seeded Clemson in Friday’s semifinal game at 7 p.m.

Ray Spalding paced Louisville with 16 points and six boards. Deng Adel scored 13 and V.J. King added 11.

Interim coach David Padgett said the Cardinals, a bubble team, deserve a berth in the NCAA Tournament “120 percent” because they “haven’t done anything wrong.”

“People used to put a lot of emphasis or weight on these quote-unquote ‘bad losses.’ Well, we don’t have any of those,” Padgett said. “We’ve played a top-20 schedule, we finished .500 in the toughest league in the country, without a doubt… Anybody who’s seen us play, anybody who watched our game against the No. 1 team in the country a week ago today, knows we are one of the best 68 teams in the country.”

Down 11-7 early, Virginia put together a 10-2 run to get in front, with Diakite coming up big off the bench. When De’Andre Hunter missed a 3-pointer, Diakite beat out two Cardinals to tip the rebound away and set up a Hall 3-pointer instead. On the next Cavalier possession, Diakite put back Hall’s missed shot with a two-handed dunk.

After a personal slow start, Guy led the Cavaliers’ next run, a 10-1 swing. He had eight points, including two 3-pointers, and a defensive rebound in that stretch. After missing his first two shots of the game, Guy became the first player on either team to reach double figures in points.

“I felt really good actually in practice It took a while to get used to wearing a brace, but I felt fine from tip-off,” Guy said. “Maybe it just took a minute to get in a groove.”

The Cavaliers scrapped for all of their 16 second-chance points, including one play they nearly lost with five minutes left in the half. Isaiah Wilkins saved an offensive rebound from hitting the baseline and hauled it back upcourt, where Virginia’s guards passed it around the key, back to Wilkins and eventually to Jack Salt for the finishing layup.

Virginia extended its lead to as large as 17 points and was up 38-27 at halftime, but Louisville used a 9-2 run to cut the lead down in the early minutes of the second half. Spalding, after scoring just four points in the first, took advantage of a favorable matchup against Salt and led the charge. But for almost the first 10 minutes of the half, the Cardinals didn’t get closer than seven points while the Cavaliers continued to sink jumpers from both sides of the arc.

A few Virginia miscues — a foul and two Hunter turnovers — set up a 7-0 Louisville run that cut the lead to 54-48 shy of the 10-minute mark. Soon the margin shrunk to four when Spalding snagged a steal, then passed ahead to Jordan Nwora for the fast-break jam.

Diakite showed up again to prevent things from getting out of hand. On a missed shot, he grabbed his own rebound and scored the put-back layup, then dunked again on the next trip up the court. Bennett kept him in the game despite having three personal fouls.

“I thought (Diakite) gave us a real nice lift with some nice baskets and offensive rebounds to scores, and then a couple times — he actually had a couple good quality individual (plays on) defense because Spalding is such a good scorer,” Bennett said.

After their lead was cut to four, Virginia scored 19 of the game’s final 25 points while the Cardinals made just one field goal in the final 8:55.

With Thursday’s loss, the Cardinals remain on the NCAA Tournament bubble; ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them as the “last team in” entering the day.

In making the case for Louisville, Padgett alluded to the program’s NCAA sanctions and the firing of longtime coach Rick Pitino.

“The way these guys, for being 18 to 22 years old, have handled it is absolutely remarkable and whatever happens on (Selection) Sunday, they deserve a ton of credit for that publicly,” Padgett said. “So many times this year, they could’ve just folded up and said, ‘This is not why we came here.’ They could’ve felt sorry for themselves and not one single time throughout the last four or five months did they do that, and I mean that with all sincerity.”

In last week’s matchup, the Cardinals led the Cavaliers 66-62 in the game’s final second when Ty Jerome was fouled on a 3-point attempt, made his first two free throws and missed the third, only for the Cavaliers to commit a lane violation that put Louisville under its own basket. Adel traveled on the baseline to turn the ball over and set up Hunter’s buzzer-beating three to win.

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