By Jason Sheehan – Virginia’s stifling defense is as good as advertised. The No. 3 ranked Cavaliers made the No. 9 ranked Cardinals work hard for every one of their 47 points forcing them to shoot a paltry 37 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three point range.
Coach Rick Pitino was critical of his team’s defense saying, “I think that the weakest thing we’ve had this year, and the last four years, is our press. Our press hasn’t been good this year. From denying the ball inbounds to trapping, not getting enough of it. It could be the lack of a bench because guys are extending so much energy. The press has probably been the weakest part of our defense this year. We didn’t even get five traps tonight.”
For the second consecutive game only four Cardinals’ players scored. Terry Rozier led the way with 16 points, but made only 5 of his 16 shots.
Chris Jones scored the first points of the game for U of L on a three, but his points were hard to come by after that. He did not score another basket for nearly 20 minutes. Jones finished with 11 points on 5 of 14 shooting.
The score was tied at 13 with 10:33 remaining in the first half. Montrezl Harrell threw down one of his patented monster dunks to tie it, but the Cards would go as dry as a desert after that. Virginia held Louisville scoreless for the rest of the first half to build a 24 – 13 halftime lead.
The second half was much of the same as Virginia maintained a consistent double digit lead. Louisville started to chip away at the lead when Wayne Blackshear showed up on the offensive end. Blackshear would hit two big threes and two free throws within a 2:30 second span to cut Virginia’s lead to six. Blackshear finished with eight points and did grab and team-high seven rebounds.
With 1:30 remaining, Harrell blocked a shot and raced to the other end to slam home an alley oop pass from Rozier. This cut the lead to four, but Virginia did not succumb to the pressure and went right back down the floor and hit an open jumper. Harrell scored 12 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.
Louisville returns home to the KFC Yum Center this Wednesday for a rematch with the Pittsburgh Panthers. Louisville beat the Panthers 80 – 68 in January.