A scoring drought in each half slowed Louisville men’s basketball’s momentum Wednesday, as the Cardinals came up just short in their upset bid against No. 7/6 Virginia with a 61-58 loss at the KFC Yum! Center.
Louisville (3-23, 1-14 ACC) led by as much as nine in the first half and still led by one with 10:18 to go, but a key 9-0 run from the Cavaliers helped them make UofL keep chase the rest of the way.
“Credit to Virginia, you can see why they are a top-10 team,” Louisville head coach Kenny Payne said. “They’re experienced, they are veterans, they know how to play, they play great together. The moment you break down, they burn you. The moment you relax, they burn you. The moment that you’re not in tune, they burn you. They’re not doing it with an abundance of talent, they’re just doing it by being solid. They’re doing it by executing. They’re doing it by playing together. And I thought that’s a top 10 team in the country and the way we fought, I’m proud of the guys.”
Senior guard El Ellis scored 13 straight points in one stretch of the first half, helping the Cardinals build an 18-12 advantage at the 8:55 mark.
A free throw by redshirt freshman guard/forward Mike James made it 26-17 UofL with 26-17 to go in the half, but the Cardinals never scored again in the frame.
Virginia (20-4, 12-3) finished the half on a 12-0 run to pull back in front 29-26 at the break.
“I just feel like guys came out and were aggressive,” Ellis said. “I feel like when we do that, we’re a really good team. We just have to continue to have that aggressiveness down the stretch, even when another team is going on their run. Because we went on the run and then they went on their run. We fought back but we just got to continue to be confident.”
The Cavaliers quickly extended the lead to seven in the second half before Ellis capped a 9-2 Louisville run with a bucket to tie it at 39-all.
The Cardinals reclaimed the lead at 42-41 after a 3-pointer by junior forward JJ Traynor, and redshirt junior forward Jae’Lyn Withers tied it again at 44-44 with 9:29 left.
But Virginia rattled off nine straight points, opening a 53-44 cushion with 6:30 left after a basket by Kihei Clark.
Louisville continued to chip away and got a putback from Traynor with 31 seconds on the clock to climb within 61-58. Virginia missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 at the other end, but the Cardinals’ 3-point try to tie was off the mark.
Ellis paced Louisville with 21 points, while Withers added 12 points and eight rebounds. James finished with 10 points, and Traynor had nine points and a career-high nine rebounds.
“Even though we’ve been losing and it’s not the year we want, we’re still having fun playing the game we love,” Traynor said. “We love our coaches and we love KP. We don’t want to quit on KP or ourselves or our teammates. So just knowing that I feel like keeps us fighting through.”
Clark and Armaan Franklin led Virginia with 14 points apiece.
Louisville stays home to host Clemson at 7 p.m. ET Saturday, when it will also honor the 10th anniversary of its historic 2013 team. The 2013 squad will be recognized at halftime, and the game will air on the ACC Network.