ACC Tournament Notes: Louisville Earns Rematch With Virginia

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Virginia finished 17-1 in the ACC.
De’Andre Hunter and the Hoos drew Louisville for the ACC Tournament opener. ~ Kris Wright

BROOKLYN – Virginia’s improbable comeback at Louisville – five points in the final second to win 67-66 – cycled through the news over and over and over again last Friday. It crossed the television screen so many times that UVA redshirt senior Devon Hall even said that it was hard to escape even when changing channels to avoid it.

For the comeback winner, the rally and all that came with it was likely exhilarating. It certainly was for Hoo fans. On the other end of that spectrum, though, the whole thing likely was excruciating.

Yet, sitting in front of his locker at the Barclays Center, Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud managed a wide smile when the topic of UVA came up. That’s because just one week after that crazy final 30 seconds, the Cardinals earned a rematch with the Hoos at the ACC Tournament. They took down Florida State on Wednesday, 82-74, to set up the first of four games Thursday. Tip-off is at noon.

“I can’t wait to play. I didn’t think I’d ever say that in my life,” Mahmoud said with a smile. “I think we match up real well with them, we understand what we need to do, and that’s the thing.”

To get to the rematch, Louisville needed to survive some late-game jitters again Wednesday. After building a 19-point halftime advantage that grew to as large as 25 in the second half, the Cardinals had to hold on to a dwindling lead in the final four minutes. FSU cut the lead to eight points three times by the 1:30 mark, but got no closer than six with 16 seconds to go.

Having just experienced the shock of losing a lead in the final minute, there was some uneasiness among the Cards.

”Losing to Virginia in the last second like we did last week, it just never leaves your mind,” Mahmoud said. ”I think I’m going to be thinking that for the rest of my life now. Every time we get into that situation, like oh my god not Virginia again. It doesn’t happen often, but it always stays in your head.”

“We all were [panicking],” Mahmoud also said. “Then Ryan [McMahon] actually was the one, he says ‘Guys we’re up eight points. There’s a minute and thirty seconds left. We’re good. Just get some stops and we’ll win the game.’ That’s the thing. Panicking too much is crucial at those points because you start losing focus on what you need to do.”

With that late test behind them, the Cardinals can turn their attention overnight to the Cavaliers. UVA swept the two-game series between the two teams with a 74-64 win in Charlottesville and the last-second one-point win in Louisville. In fact, the Hoos own a six-game winning streak against the Cards. Still, Louisville found ways to break down the Pack-Line Defense in both games and it remains the only team to reach 50% shooting against Virginia all season.

Plus, there are the emotions generated from that comeback last week.

”Absolutely. It’s payback with us toward them. This is our third time’s the charm,” Mahmoud said. ”We all understand what we need to do defensively and offensively. It’s going to be a great game.”

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Block Party

During Wednesday’s game at the Barclays Center, Louisville and Florida State combined for 21 blocked shots, a new ACC Tournament record. The Cardinals swatted away 10 shot attempts to contribute to that total.

That continues a season-long trend for Louisville. The team piled up 202 blocked shots and averaged 6.1 blocks per game, good enough for third nationally. The Cards own a 9.9% block percentage (an estimate of the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked) on the season, which ranks sixth nationally.

Mahmoud and Ray Spalding lead the block party. Mahmoud turned away 97 attempts this season and he added five more blocks in the tourney game against the Seminoles. Spalding tallied 54 blocked shots this season and picked up two more Wednesday.

The good news for the Hoos in that regard is that they managed to avoid the swat team in both meetings this season. In the first game, Louisville logged one block and it got just two in the second.

Season Highlights

The folks over at Virginia Sports TV put together a highlight video from the Hoos’ 28-2 regular season run. It’s the perfect way to get hyped about the start of postseason play.

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