Senior Day was a good day for the Virginia Cavaliers, as senior center Mike Tobey scored 15 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds to lead the No. 4 Cavaliers past the No. 11 Louisville Cardinals, 68-46, on Saturday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
After a tough first half shooting the ball, Cavaliers senior and leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon finished his final home game with 17 points, scoring 13 of them in the second half. Fellow senior forward Anthony Gill finished with 15 points, as well.
Virginia won its 20th consecutive game at John Paul Jones Arena—35th win in its last 36 conference home games, per the ESPN broadcast—and will enter the ACC tournament winners of four of its last five games.
The Cavaliers (24-6, 13-5 ACC) will be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament thanks to the North Carolina Tar Heels defeating the Duke Blue Devils earlier in the day.
Dallas Mavericks rookie guard and former Virginia standout Justin Anderson shared his enthusiasm of his team going into the conference tournament:
Justin Anderson @JusAnderson1
Loving this play from Tobey going into ACC play! Watch out @accmbb we coming for another one!!2016-3-6 03:27:12
After self-imposing a postseason ban on Feb. 5 due to a recruiting scandal, Louisville's season (23-8, 12-6 ACC) came to a crashing end by shooting only 27.6 percent from the floor. Cardinals big man Chinanu Onuaku fouled out with seven points and four rebounds in only 20 minutes of action.
Cardinals forward Donovan Mitchell led Louisville with 11 points and was the only Cardinal to score in double figures.
The first nine minutes, 18 seconds of the game for Louisville did not go as planned. Not only did Virginia jump out to a 13-1 lead, but the Cardinals missed their first 12 shots and turned the ball over three times. A three-pointer by Deng Adel at the 10:42 mark was the first basket of the game for Louisville.
During that stretch for Virginia, Gill took advantage of the opportunities he was getting in the low post. He made four of his first five shots and made his first five free-throw attempts. The Cavaliers took a 29-17 lead at halftime despite Virginia shooting 36.4 percent from the floor. They also sustained that 12-point lead with Brogdon missing five of his first six shots.
ESPN's Dana O'Neil thought the lead was larger than 12 points thanks to Virginia's suffocating defense:
Dana O'Neil @ESPNDanaOneil
Virginia takes a 29-17 lead at the half. Seems larger than that. 20 minutes left in Louisville's season.2016-3-6 02:19:15
It also turned out to be an efficient first half for the Virginia seniors, per Virgnia Basketball:
Virginia Basketball @UVAMensHoops
No. 4 Virginia leads No. 11 Louisville 29-17 at halftime. Seniors have 24 of 29 points. #LOUvsUVA https://t.co/bl1xZOJboP2016-3-6 02:20:57
But it was Virginia's third-ranked scoring defense that stifled Louisville in the first half, allowing only seven makes on the Cardinals' first 23 attempts. Louisville shot just 25 percent from the floor in the first half while only getting to the foul line two times.
Virginia also outrebounded Louisville, 21-16, in the first half, with Tobey grabbing 11 of those rebounds in the first 20 minutes.
The second half was more of the same for Louisville, who continued to miss shots. The Cardinals missed seven of its first nine shots before Mitchell's three-pointer with 13:23 remaining cut the Virginia lead to 39-25.
But Virginia's offense got off to a strong start, making five of its first six shots of the second half, including a three-pointer from London Perrantes. The Cavaliers led by as many as 19 points, and the Cardinals could not cut the lead to single digits.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports commented on the Cavaliers' play, led by head coach Tony Bennett:
Jon Rothstein @JonRothstein
Virginia basketball. A thing of beauty.2016-3-6 03:31:39
It was a wire-to-wire victory for Virginia, who could clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a strong showing in the conference tournament. One of those 14 home wins the Cavaliers recorded this year came against ACC regular-season champion North Carolina. If it comes down to those two, Virginia could have the mental edge in that potential matchup.
Louisville's season began with promise but now ends with an uncertain future regarding head coach Rick Pitino and reports of him interested in the UNLV Runnin' Rebels coaching job, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Matt Youmans. The Cardinals face a long offseason, but they'll get a quick head start on figuring that out.
Tobey came into Saturday's contest looking to be aggressive on the boards, and that intensity turned into a career night for the senior big man.
"That's something that I've been trying to work on going into the game," Tobey said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
Gill, who was another senior to contribute in a major way on Saturday, was happy to see his frontcourt mate make a huge impact on the boards.
"[Tobey] wants to be great and he has it in him," Gill said, per the AP. "Tonight he showed it and we're going to need that from him down the stretch. From here on out, it's one game and we're done."
Although this was the last time Pitino will coach Louisville this season, he was proud of his team for showing fight in a game that was small in the overall picture.
"They gave such great effort," Pitino said, per the AP. "They played as it they were playing for a Number 1 seed."