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Flame-Throwing Woldetensae Not Enough As 'Hoos Come Up Just Short In Upset Bid At Louisville

Game Highlights

As Tomas Woldetensae hit his seventh 3, Chris Mack picked up a technical foul, and Virginia took its first lead of the second half with 3:30 left, everyone at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday had to be thinking the same thing: Here we go again.

Whether you were a Wahoo or a Cardinal watching the game, the proceedings were looking quite familiar. This looked like another Louisville meltdown in the making that was going to benefit UVa again, one worthy of last season's 12-point comeback and 2018's five-points-in-0.9-seconds madness.

But despite a combined 50 points from Woldetensae and Kihei Clark, it was not to be this time. Louisville refocused itself in time for an 80-73 victory, only its second in the 12 ACC meetings in this series.

Woldetensae and Clark's total was only about six points below Virginia's season average. The Cavaliers (15-7, 7-5) scored 43 in the second 20 minutes -- by far the most in a half this season -- and the 73 they finished with was well past their season high of 65. And yet, at high-powered Louisville (21-3, 12-1), it wasn't enough, as the Cavaliers fell in a hard-fought contest that will unfortunately go down as a loss, but no doubt turned some heads as the 'Hoos fight for an NCAA tournament berth.

"I'd like to talk about Virginia's scoring troubles. Damn," Louisville coach Chris Mack deadpanned after the game. "It took a heck of an effort. ... Virginia's [rallied] so many times before, I'm sure that was in the back of our guys' minds, but our resiliency was what was needed, and you're going to do that when you play against Virginia, who, in my opinion, is just getting better and better and better. It has the look of an NCAA tournament team, and it's not even close."

Woldetensae caught fire for the second time this season, making 7 of his 10 3s and 10 of 13 from the field on the way to a game-high 27 points. At Wake Forest on Jan. 26, he made 7 of 14 from beyond the arc and put up 21. But this performance had an other-worldly feel to it, because he made six in the second half of a nationally broadcast game as UVa willed itself into the lead against the No. 5 team in the nation on the road after being down by as many as 16 points.

"Tomas was discouraged early because he gave up a few 3s, and we challenged him. He felt it, but you can see he's getting more and more comfortable," Tony Bennett said. "He's got a very good feel, he's aggressive with, what we like to say, 'Hunting his shot.' Our guys did a good job of finding him and screening. We screened well. ... Our offense kept us in, got us back in it. ... We made some aggressive plays, and that makes us a different team, but then you can't forget how good you have to be defensively, and I thought there were just a few times we had some breakdowns that cost us."

Woldetensae became especially fond of the elbow-extended 3. At first, he was getting open shots, as if Louisville didn't know about his earlier breakout game. Eventually, though, when it became obvious he was scorching-hot, the Cardinals made sure they had a defender close -- and he was still knocking them down with abandon. His last trey at the 3:32 mark tied the game at 68, but he didn't even get an attempt off the rest of the game. Louisville sold out to take him away, but still, if you're the Wahoos in that situation, I make sure he gets the ball through whatever means necessary.

Right after he tied it, Mack got a technical foul, complaining about an earlier noncall. Clark went to the line and drained the two free throws. All of a sudden, the Cavaliers were in the lead, and it looked like another Cardinals catastrophe (see, Virginia at Louisville, 2018-19, Duke at Louisville, 2019) was on the threshold of reality.

But on the next possession, freshman David Johnson worked hard against senior Braxton Key and got a shot in the paint to tie it. I really think had he not tied it right away, the book of Cardinals' collapses might've added another chapter. I bet that immediate answer was important for their confidence.

“His size is great," Bennett said of the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Johnson, who recorded seven points, five assists, and two boards. "He really attacked, [Coach Mack] ran some good stuff to get him downhill. He made the plays and again, we probably had a couple breakdowns where we either reached or leaned and weren't quite right but the young man, being a freshman from this area, he showed [up in his hometown]." Johnson, an ESPN top-100 recruit, starred at Trinity High School in Louisville.

On the other end, Mamadi Diakite was fouled and missed the front end of a one-and-one, which ended up being crucial. Louisville's Steven Enoch followed by knocking down both of his freebies, part of Louisville's 6-0 run to grab the lead back, and this time, it didn't let go. Clark also missed a free throw that could've cut the lead to 76-74 and put more pressure on Louisville to make its final free throws. Virginia went a solid 10 of 14 at the line, but those two misses near the end -- a recurring problem -- were big. Louisville, meanwhile, went 20 of 23 at the line, including 10 of 12 after it was 70-all.

Bennett was asked about the discrepancy in the number of fouls on the teams (20 on UVa and 11 on Louisville, though of course the 'Hoos picked up a few intentionally at the end), and unsurprisingly, he danced around criticizing the referees.

“I guess we fouled them," Bennett said. "I'll look at the tape. It's a physical game, and a lot of stuff is happening, and we try to play very good position, and when guys are dribbling and putting the ball on the floor hard, there's contact all over. But possessions are so valuable in those kinds of games, and you hate when you look at how many times we put them on the line, the discrepancy, you just battle. We'll go to the film and see what we can do better with our positioning."

Key, in particular, had to endure another noncall on a hard-charging layup where he got fouled in midair and still made the shot. He turned to the ref for an explanation twice, once right after the basket and again on the other end, as Louisville got a call in a similar situation.

Clark's outing was only overshadowed because of what Woldetensae did. Clark had career highs in points with 23 and and 3s with four, on six attempts, while adding seven assists, five rebounds, and a pair of steals. He had four turnovers, but they weren't a problem for the Cavaliers, who recorded a season-low seven. Clark came into the game having not made a 3 in the past six games, a stretch covering 14 shots. Unfortunately, one of the two 3s he missed was huge. It would've put UVa up 73-72 with 2:26 remaining, and he got a good look.

"I thought he was going to make that 3," Bennett said. "Louisville went to switching [on screens] one through five, and he sort of backed [big men Steven] Enoch or [Malik] Williams down late in the game, he backed him up, and he got a real clean look, and that was the one I know he really wanted and we wanted."

Diakite was the other Cavalier in double figures with 10, but he only made 3 of his 11 shots and came up with just two rebounds, getting outfought for a crucial one in the second half as the team was trying to claw back into contention. That was a problem for Virginia, which was outrebounded by Louisville 31-19. UVa, which has been strong on the offensive boards, only managed three Saturday, but the Cards tallied eight and got 15 second-chance points (four for UVa).

"We gave up a couple of key offensive rebounds that I thought we had ... but we have to finish the play, and to give up the eight offensive rebounds -- and I think a couple of them were at crucial times -- and there were some plays made," Bennett said.

Key had seven points and four rebounds, missing his lone 3 and failing to replicate his deep-shooting game from last week. The 'Hoos didn't really need that from him in this one, of course, but it would've been nice if at least one other Cavalier had made some 3s to go along with Woldetensae's and Clark's prolific output, as they made all 11 of Virginia's 22 attempts.

Jay Huff had four points, five boards, and three blocks, and Francisco Caffaro played eight minutes, going 2 for 2 from the line.

As good as Virginia's duo shot the ball, early on it looked like the Cardinals were going to be even better. By the 14:47 mark of the first half, they had already made six, which were there first six made shots. But thanks to Clark's second 3, UVa was only down 20-14 with 13:55 left. Louisville finished 9 of 22 from behind the arc, making only one in the second half. It shot 51 percent from the field, and UVa landed at 53.1 percent.

“First to start the game, they shot lights out, and we didn't," Bennett said. "We knew they could shoot, but you have to trust the defense behind you and try to pressure the ball so, I thought we adjusted well. But, I thought [they made] some key baskets inside. ... What makes Louisville good is they seem like they can play in the 50s and in the 80s, and I guess we showed we can play in the 73s now, but we have to see if we can consistently do that. That's what makes them good is their ability to play at different paces and different styles." Bennett noted his team was similar last season in its versatility.

ACC player of the year candidate Jordan Nwora led the Cards with 22 points and seven rebounds, making 4 of his 8 3s. He knocked down Louisville's lone triple in the second half, barely. The ball rattled around in the rim, bounded high in the air, then fell through the net. Enoch and Williams scored 13 each, and Darius Perry scored nine on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.

Louisville's margin was 16 right before the final play of the first half, when Huff drove in for a dunk from the 3-point line to make it 44-30 at the break.

No doubt this was a tough loss, but Virginia certainly showed up, improved its strength of schedule, and attacked the game the right way. A victory would've been so huge for the NCAA tournament resume, obviously, but the 'Hoos still got the attention of some people. If they more closely resemble that offensive team going forward and not the one that averages about 56 points, they'll really be cooking coming down the stretch run of the season.

"We talked about it, being the best version of themselves," Bennett said of his guys. "They took our message before the game -- it was leave this place a better team. ... I think we did that today. There's still things that we can improve, but you saw a great environment for college basketball. We took a step in defeat. I can handle being beat. I just don't like losing, and we didn't lose today.”

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