LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Virginia’s clutch baskets alone were cause enough for players to leap off the bench in celebration.
The Cavaliers’ whooping was even louder because of the reward those big shots earned.
Sam Hauser scored a season-high 24 points, Trey Murphy III added 17 and No. 21 Virginia beat Louisville 68-58 on Saturday to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.
Assured of least a No. 2 seed entering the regular-season finale, the Cavaliers (17-6, 13-4) received a huge opportunity for even more when first-place and No. 11 Florida State lost 83-73 earlier in the day at Notre Dame. Virginia then methodically took care of the Cardinals (13-6, 8-5) to leapfrog the Seminoles by percentage points (.765 to .733) despite a blowout loss at FSU in the season’s lone meeting on Feb. 15.
Then again, the Cavs have come a long way since that first of three consecutive losses. They earned their fifth ACC regular season title under coach Tony Bennett and sixth No. 1 conference tournament seed.
“To get it how we did it, I’m so grateful,” Bennett said, sitting in the locker room the team used when it beat Purdue two years ago to advance to the Final Four.
“We talked about what a title fight meant and being able to live with the results, win or lose, but lay it on the line and don’t yield.”
Indeed, Virginia gave Louisville little to nothing on his home floor.
Despite making just 3 of 15 from long range, the Cavaliers shot consistently well (52%) inside elsewhere to lead throughout. Louisville got to 41-38 with 13:47 remaining with a 6-0 run, but Hauser answered with five consecutive points and Virginia later added another 5-0 run on the way to a 13-point advantage the Cardinals couldn’t dent.
Credit Hauser for coolly knocking down shots from all over.
The Marquette transfer finished 9 of 14 from the field, making his first four in the second half, and grabbed eight rebounds.
“I’ve never been part of a championship team until now, so for me this is a first in college,” said Hauser, who topped his previous high a month ago against Pitt by a point. “I’m just excited that we got it and we got it done. It didn’t matter that it was during the pandemic or not.”
Murphy helped by shooting 7 of 12, and 7-foot-1 Jay Huff added 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
As Virginia relished a double bye earned by its second consecutive win, Louisville saw its meager two-game run halted.
The Cardinals committed just three turnovers but struggled to score. And despite holding one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams in check, Virginia seemed to get the baskets they needed from other spots.
“Virginia can be frustrating because they’re just solid,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “If you had told me before the game that we would’ve held them, to 3 of 15 from the 3 and have three turnovers for the entire game, I thought it would have been ours for the taking.”
David Johnson had 14 points and Jae’Lyn Withers 12 for Louisville, which shot 37% and was beaten 32-22 in the paint.
Virginia solidified its place in the rankings with another win over Louisville.
THE BIG PICTURE
Virginia: As usual, the Cavaliers were efficient on both ends in earning their fifth win in seven meetings on the Cardinals’ home floor. They slowed the pace initially and worked the ball around for good offensive looks before picking up the tempo in the second half. Other than one second-half segment that allowed Louisville to get close, Virginia’s defense often forced the Cards into shots they didn’t want that missed.
Louisville: Leading scorer Carlik Jones shot a season-worst 2 of 15 for just six points, a void the Cardinals couldn’t offset despite a lift from Johnson and Withers. Defensively, they got caught in a lot of mismatches or switches that often left Virginia shooters open or with big size advantages.