In the dying embers of the regular season, the shelf life for suffering over losses and celebrating victories is almost non-existent as attention turns to postseason aspirations, but Louisville’s Ray Spalding can’t shake recollections of last Thursday’s 67-66 loss to Virginia.
It’s hard to blame him. Losses don’t come much more painfully.
“It definitely sticks with you a little bit longer than the average loss,” said Spalding, who will help lead No. 9 seed Louisville into Thursday’s rematch against No. 1 seed U.Va. (28-2) in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Being able to play them and have this opportunity that we have (Thursday) is good. I’m kind of relishing the moment and the opportunity we have to play the No. 1 team again.
“We’ll probably hold on to that memory forever. …It was a big game, and we let it slip away.”
After defeating No. 8 seed Florida State 82-74 Wednesday in the second round, Louisville (20-12) will have a third crack at trying to get the ultimate signature win to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee and get past U.Va., which can likely lose and still end up as the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
As hard as U.Va. fought Jan. 31 to finish off Louisville 74-64 in Charlottesville, turning the Cardinals away after they cut the Cavaliers’ lead to five points with less than three minutes left, it’s hard to imagine anything being as dramatic and improbable as U.Va.’s win last Thursday in Louisville.
Trailing 66-62 after a pair of free throws with six seconds left by Louisville’s Darius Perry, U.Va.’s Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter combined to create a miracle. Jerome, who had 21 points and connected on a desperate 3-pointer with seven seconds left to trim Louisville’s lead to 64-62, got fouled by Perry with 0.9 seconds left while attempting another 3-pointer.
Jerome made his first two free throws to reduce Louisville’s advantage to 66-64, but U.Va.’s Mamadi Diakite was called for a lane violation on Jerome’s third free throw, giving the ball back to Louisville. Cardinals wing Deng Adel, who had 18 points, tried to run the baseline before he in-bounded the ball on a spot throw-in, resulting in a violation and another turnover.
With the clock still reading just 0.9 seconds left, Jerome passed inbounds to Hunter, who was U.Va.’s third option on the play. Hunter caught the ball, quickly rose over Adel and banked in a 3-pointer for the win from about 30 feet away from the basket.
“That game last week was just a perfect storm of stuff that had to go right for them and wrong for us, and it did, but hey, that’s sports,” said Louisville coach David Padgett, whose team led U.Va. by 10 points with 4:15 left. “Will any of us ever see a game like that ever again? Probably not.”
Despite the losses, Louisville has played U.Va. better than just about any other ACC program this season. ACC opponents shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range against U.Va. in three games, with Louisville accounting for two of those games (44.4 percent in the January loss, 40 percent in last Thursday’s loss).
“I thought (in last Thursday’s) game we did a great job of really attacking the basket,” Louisville guard Quentin Snider said. “This is our chance. We’re just going to focus on Virginia and try to get this win tomorrow.”
U.Va.’s 12 turnovers last Thursday were its second-most this season in ACC play. In the January meeting, Louisville’s 50 percent shooting effort from the floor was the best this season against the Cavaliers.
“I’m looking forward to playing Virginia because we know we can compete with anybody in the country, but our biggest thing is getting another win,” Adel said after Louisville’s win against FSU. “Like everybody said, we’re on the bubble of the tournament, so our biggest thing is getting a win, and no matter who’s standing in our way, we’re going to find a way.”
It remains to be seen how much of an impact Kyle Guy, a first-team All-ACC guard who leads U.Va. with 13.9 points per game, will have Thursday. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee last Saturday in a home win against Notre Dame.
Though Guy said his knee “hurts like hell” after Monday’s practice, he anticipated playing Thursday. Guy didn’t know if he’d wear a brace on his knee.
U.Va. will be looking to reach the ACC semifinals for the fourth time in the last five years — not bad for a program predicted by media to finish sixth in the ACC standings before the season.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t pay attention to it,” Guy said of low expectations from media before the season. “We don’t really care that much, but we definitely want to prove our believers right and our doubters wrong. I think we’ve done that so far.
“I don’t have time to get frustrated with other people who want to troll our team. I think the way we just finished the ACC regular season and the awards our guys are getting speaks for itself.”
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642 or Twitter at @normwood