Those would be victories when the Cards would be a bit off their feed, not shooting so well, out of kilter at the offensive end, not shutting down their foes’ biggest weapons, but when the fundamentals, proper technique, developed habitual techniques, fortitude, inner swagger, and talent would out, when the course would be stayed, when the opponent eventually, frustrated, would make critical mistakes that cost them the games.
Saturday’s 73-68 defeat was a program win for UVa.
The Cavaliers didn’t shoot it especially well overall. They surrendered more points than usual, allowed themselves to be outpointed underneath, and were outrebounded by nine.
Yet, they stayed the course. The victors were ready to win, the defeated were not.
Despite a worthy effort against arguably the nation’s best team, U of L, on the ascend but still with a ways to go, fell prey at critical junctures to that syndrome they used to engender.
Staying strong early even though the Wahoos netted treys on three of their first five possessions, U of L, a possession after Jordan Nwora stopped and popped a triple on a fast break, was within a digit at 27-28.
Taking advantage of an infrequent Virginia failure to rotate, Nwora had a clear path to the hoop, though the Cavaliers bigs were closing quickly as he drove and soared to the hoop. Instead of simply making sure he secured the rock through the hoop, the Cards leading scorer went for the SC Top 10 moment, attempting a showboat windmill stuff. Which clanked afar off the iron.
Realizing as good teams do, that they had made a defensive mistake but had escaped, UVa immediately clamped down on D, forcing some dicey Cardinal attempts, and scored eight straight.
The victors were ready to win, the defeated were not.
The Cardinals, to their credit, never went away, in one of their most focused performances of the season.
Yet, when it mattered, UVa, the confident contingent, made plays. U of L did not.
At the risk of sounding like I’m blaming Nwora (19 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 4 turnovers) for the loss — I Am Not — I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that his less than judicious gaffes at critical junctures hindered U of L’s opportunities for victory.
Louisville, clicking on the proverbial all cylinders coming out of halftime, hit its first five FG attempts, shut down UVa when they had the ball, and turned a five point deficit at the break into a 47-40 advantage after a Malik Williams trey.
Kyle Guy hit a three. Nwora turned it over on an ill advised drive to the hoop.
Ty Jerome canned a J. Nwora turned it over on a bad pass to the pivot. Which led to a rare UVa fastbreak score, knotting the contest at 47.
Allow me to be clear, Jordan Nwora didn’t lose the game. Others failed to rise to the occasion. Dwayne Sutton, out of character, failed to hustle after a loose ball, allowing a Virginia score. Steven Enoch was out of sync on his defensive rotations, allowing any number of Cavalier tallies.
My point is that U of L under Chris Mack is still a work in progress, still extricating itself from the chrysalis, still in need of significantly more talent and depth.
Jordan Nwora, for me, is the most glaring example of what ails this squad despite its unexpected successes. He’s honed his body. He can shoot. He can shoot from range. He can shoot quickly. He’s a really good rebounder, with a real nose for the ball. He has deceptively quick hands on D, and has improved his footwork.
Yet he still lopes into position much of the time, is often selfish with the rock, and is not fully cognizant of the parameters of his abilities, attempting maneuvers for which he is unequipped.
I would offer these flaws that remain in his game will be fixable when he has better players to compete against in practice, and when Chris Mack will be able to sit him when he tries to play hero ball on the court.
How many times have we said it, this surprising U of L team is fraught with imperfection, yet, like the little engine that could, keeps on moving.
U of L played a damn fine game against UVa. The Cards simply aren’t back at that level . . . yet.
A win in the ACC tourney and it will be 20 W, NCAA-bound campaign.
I’ll admit: Not me.
But next Sunday evening will be way more satisfying than we could have ever hoped for.
— Seedy K