No. 10 Louisville has a chance to claim its first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title since joining the league in 2014.
To make that happen, the Cardinals will likely need to beat the league’s hottest team on its home floor as they take on the No. 22 Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.
Louisville (24-6, 15-4) and Florida State enter the final day of the regular season tied for first place, one game ahead of Virginia (22-7, 14-5) and Duke. The Seminoles play at home against Boston College, while the Blue Devils host North Carolina.
“If we win on Saturday, which is a huge task, we’re co-champions. At least,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said after Sunday’s 68-52 victory against Virginia Tech.
The Cardinals have been idle since that win, providing plenty of time to prepare for the defending national champions.
The Cavaliers have won seven consecutive games and 10 of their last 11, with their only loss since Jan. 20 coming at Louisville on Feb. 8. The Cardinals are only 3-3 since that 80-73 victory over Virginia.
Saturday will be Senior Day for Virginia starters Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key, the team’s leading scorer (13.6 points per game) and rebounder (7.4 per game), respectively. Diakite was a starter and Key was the sixth man for last season’s NCAA Tournament champs.
“We’re really excited,” junior Jay Huff said. “Both to finish out the season on a win, hopefully, and to send Mamadi and Braxton off on a good note.”
Huff scored Virginia’s first 17 points and sophomore Kihei Clark scored the last two points at the line with 8.3 seconds left to clinch a 46-44 win at Miami on Wednesday night.
That was the latest one-possession finish for the cardiac Cavaliers. Six of the victories during their current win streak were by a combined 13 points.
“This team has found ways (to win),” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said after edging the Hurricanes. “It hasn’t always been the most aesthetically pleasing, but they’ve found ways.”
Virginia is 15-5 all-time against Louisville and had won nine straight in the series before the loss last month.
The Cavaliers led 70-68 with 3:25 remaining, but the Cardinals closed the game with a 12-3 run. Virginia junior Tomas Woldetensae made 7 of 10 3-pointers and led all scorers with a career-high 27 points, while ACC Player of the Year candidate Jordan Nwora paced Louisville with 22 points and seven boards.
Woldetensae has made only 3 of 17 shots from behind the arc in his last four games.
“They’re locked on to him,” Bennett said. “… But he’ll keep working, and he’s made some nice passes. And I’ve got a feeling he’s going to make some for us coming up here.”
The Cardinals haven’t won in Charlottesville since joining the ACC. Their last road victory over Virginia was on Feb. 17, 1990.
Louisville junior big man Malik Williams twisted his ankle at Florida State on Feb. 24 and was on the bench with a walking boot in Sunday’s win against the Hokies. He is day-to-day.
–Field Level Media