Charlottesville, Va—Virginia looked sharp and rebounded from a double-digit loss to North Carolina State at PNC Arena in Raleigh. The defense rose up to beat Louisville 64-52 Monday night lead by Kihei Clark scoring 15 points on his 23rd birthday.
It was the first time since Virginia’s Jan. 1 win over Syracuse that Clark had scored more than nine points.
In the first four minutes, UVA was 4 for 4 from the hardwood and led 11-3.
The win was the Cavaliers’ 12th in its past 13 games against the Cardinals. The Hoos lead the series 18-5.
“There was some good Virginia basketball, I thought,” head coach Tony Bennett said after Monday night victory. “Hard offense, tough defense, didn’t give up easy looks, and for the most part, we were connected.”
For the Cavaliers, who have not loss back-to-back games this season, they came out of the gate red hot. They led by 19 points with six minutes left in the first half and by 12 at the break (35-23). When the Cardinals cut the deficit to four points with 11:53 to play in the game, UVA answered with seven straight points.
UVA didn’t shoot well from downtown (5 for 16), but they played with an chip on their shoulders defensively and kept Louisville off-balance with their crisp passing.
“We really locked in mentally and we came and met his challenge,” forward Jayden Gardner said. “He wanted us to play hard and play with intensity and play Virginia basketball, and I think we did that tonight for 40 minutes.”
Of Virginia’s 24 field goals, 20 were assisted. Sophomore guard Reece Beekman led the Cavaliers with a career-high 11 assists, the most by an ACC player in a game this season. It was a night that Beekman took only two shots, he also had seven boards and two swipes.
“We’re a team that needs to improve quickly,” Louisville head coach Chris Mack said.
“I think he felt a nice rhythm and was going with it,” Bennett said. “He got good looks. But he needs to be assertive, find that sweet spot where he’s distributing, taking good shots, but looking for good shots and aggressive. So that never changes, and I think that that just helped us a little bit.”
Louisville cut the lead to five points with 5:29 to play in the contest, but Virginia never took their foot off the gas. Kadin Shedrick and Beekman teamed up on a pick-and-roll that ended with a monstrous dunk by Shedrick. On the Cavaliers’ next possession, Gardner lobbed to Shedrick for another rim rocker, and suddenly it was back up to a nine-point game.
The Cardinals scored only three points in the final three minutes, and those came after Clark’s third trey gave UVA a 64-49 lead.
“We really got after them,” Gardner said. “They really couldn’t get a really good shot off. We scrambled. We just played Virginia basketball tonight, so that was really exciting to see.”
Jarrod West led Louisville (11-9, 5-5) with 14 points off the bench. Matt Cross chipped in 11 points and six rebounds and Malik Williams added 10 points and six boards.
Gardner scored 14 points; Shedrick had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots; and Franklin added 10 points. Virginia (12-8, 6-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 47.1% from the field (24 of 51), hitting 5 of 16 from distance and 11 of 14 from the line while taking a decided advantage on the boards, out-rebounding the Cardinals 28-18.
Mack: “I’m proud of our guys for continuing to fight, but we could never get over the hump; I think we cut [UVA’s lead] to four or five a few times. We had a couple open looks from guys that we want shooting open looks, and if those go down maybe it becomes a little bit more game pressure on Virginia.”
Virginia (12-8, 6-4) plays Saturday at Notre Dame (12-6, 5-2) at Purcell Pavilion. The 6 p.m. game will air on ACC Network.
The Cavaliers have won six straight over the Fighting Irish and lead the series 16-2.
Notre Dame, which is coming off a road win over Louisville, hosts NC State at 9 p.m. Wednesday.