To bag the signature win it needed to all but secure an NCAA tournament bid, Louisville merely had to protect a four-point lead with less than a second to go.
Somehow, someway, the Cardinals couldn’t get it done.
Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter banked in a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer as time expired to give the top-ranked Cavaliers a stunning 67-66 victory at Louisville on Thursday night. It was an outcome that would never have been possible were it not for the pair of ill-timed gaffes by the Cardinals just before Hunter’s buzzer beater.
Louisville’s Darius Perry needlessly gave Virginia life when he fouled guard Ty Jerome on an otherwise meaningless 3-point attempt with 0.9 seconds to go. Jerome sank the first two free throws, however, before he could intentionally miss the third, teammate Mamadi Diakate stepped into the paint and was whistled for a lane violation.
Virginia once again appeared to be drawing dead until Louisville again made a mistake that breathed life into its opponent.
When Louisville forward Deng Adel ignored a referee’s warning that he was not allowed to run the baseline to create space to throw the ball in bounds, the ill-timed traveling violation gave possession back to Virginia with no time coming off the clock. The Cavaliers then made the Cardinals pay with a buzzer beater worthy of the first day of March.
No. 1 Virginia was down 4 with under a second to go … and won.
Yep, it’s officially March. pic.twitter.com/yZR0OtFyTv
— ESPN (@espn) March 2, 2018
Hunter’s buzzer beater gave Virginia a victory in a game it trailed by 13 midway through the second half, by 10 with six minutes to go and by four with less than a second remaining. The Cavaliers (27-2, 16-1) are a near lock to receive the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament no matter how they fare in their regular season finale against Notre Dame and in the ACC tournament.
Louisville’s postseason fate is much more uncertain thanks to a lack of a marquee win. The Cardinals (19-11, 9-8) have only lost to teams in contention for the NCAA tournament all season, but their most notable wins have come against the likes of Florida State and Virginia Tech.
A win over Virginia probably would have elevated Louisville off the bubble and put the Cardinals in strong position to end another scandal-plagued year with an NCAA bid. They’ll instead visit NC State on Saturday knowing they may need to win that game to feel good about their chances entering the ACC tournament.
Thursday’s loss was especially gutting for Louisville because the Cardinals had Virginia beaten.
Louisville built a lead by avoiding turnovers and consistently getting to the foul line against Virginia’s stout pack-line defense. The Cavaliers struggled offensively until the final minutes, raising concerns that they still may not score easily enough to win a title this postseason.
When Perry sank two foul shots to put his team up four with seven seconds to go, Virginia was all but dead and Louisville was all but celebrating.
Improbably the game ended seconds later with Virginia mobbing Hunter and the Cardinals in disbelief.
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