LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)Armaan Franklin and Kihei Clark each scored 14 points and No. 7 Virginia endured a stern challenge from struggling Louisville and its own poor free-throw shooting to win its third straight game, 61-58 on Wednesday night.
The Cavaliers (20-4, 12-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) led 58-50 with 3:47 remaining but didn’t make a basket after Clark found Jayden Gardner for a layup with 3:06 left that made it 60-52. Virginia also missed five free throws in the final six minutes to give the ACC-worst Cardinals (3-23, 1-14) a chance. JJ Traynor’s jumper with 31 seconds left got Louisville within three, and Clark missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
But the Cardinals bled valuable time off the clock during their final possession while trying to get free for an open 3-pointer, and Kamari Lands’ off-balance 3 barely hit the rim with 3 seconds left. Ben Vander Plas got the rebound and Virginia escaped with its sixth consecutive win over the Cardinals while moving into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh in the ACC.
”Always nice to get a win, especially on the road,” Vander Plas said. ”It’s always hard to win on the road. So, that was our No. 1 goal and we accomplished that. Obviously we’ve got some things to polish up, both offensively and defensively.”
El Ellis had 21 points for Louisville, which has lost four straight since its lone ACC victory. The Cardinals were coming off another close game against one of the league’s best teams, a 93-85 loss at Miami.
This one could have turned out differently if Louisville had executed better in the final seconds.
”I understand the emotions of the game, `We’ve got to get a 3. We have to get a 3,”’ first-year coach Kenny Payne said. ”That’s not what we really needed. We could have taken a quick 2.
”Now you’re only down one, you foul, you give yourself another chance. But I’m happy with the guys, they fought hard.”
Clark shot 5 of 11 overall and made three baskets during a critical stretch after after Louisville tied the game at 44. The fifth-year guard scored eight points during an 11-1 run that included Vander Plas’ 3 for a 55-45 cushion that Virginia ended up needing to offset those missed free throws.
Clark earned his 71st victory at Virginia to surpass Duke’s Shane Battier as the ACC’s winningest player in regular season and tournament games. He credited the team’s resolve through the ragged finish.
”I think it just shows the type of guys we have,” said Clark, who tied London Perrantes as Virginia’s career leader in games started at 132. ”We were able to dig down deep and get out with a win.”
Gardner and Vander Plas each scored 10 points for Virginia, which shot 57% after halftime and 44% overall.
The Cardinals and Cavaliers began by shooting a combined 10 for 31, but Ellis found comfort on the perimeter as Louisville led by as many as nine points.
Virginia trailed 26-17 with 5:18 left in the first half before outscoring Louisville 20-4 over the next 20 minutes. Despite taking a 10-point lead late in the game, the Cavaliers had to hang on in the final seconds.
The teams will meet again on March 4 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Virginia: The Cavaliers began the game shooting poorly but settled down to find a rhythm just before the break. They finished 9 of 16 from the free-throw line, including 5 of 10 after halftime. Outscoring Louisville 30-20 in the paint was important in a tougher-than-expected game.
Louisville: The normally error-prone Cardinals committed just four turnovers in the first half, but a couple came during a late drought. That made a difference against a precise Cavs squad that didn’t turn the ball over until two minutes into the second half. Louisville ultimately had 10 giveaways that Virginia converted into 13 points.
Virginia hosts Notre Dame on Saturday.
Louisville hosts Clemson on Saturday.
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