LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Now Louisville's players and coaches will play an agonizing waiting game.
After turning in another gallant effort against No. 1 Virginia, but falling short for the third time in five weeks Thursday afternoon in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the Cardinals (20-13) must nervously bide their time during the next three days wondering about their NCAA Tournament fate until the 68-team field is announced Sunday evening.
"It's going to be an anxious 72 hours," U of L interim coach David Padgett said in what surely ranks as an understatement. "We've got to wait until Sunday and hopefully hear our name called. I'll believe it ’until the day I die that we've done more than enough to earn our chance to play in the tournament. In my opinion, our overall body of work is more than good enough, and hopefully the committee sees it the same way."
Following U of L's 82-74 win over Florida State in a second-round ACC game Wednesday and probably anticipating a loss to Virginia, ESPN's Joe Lunardi - considered the guru among bracketologists based on years of unequaled accuracy - moved the Cards from his First Four Out category to Last Four In. Lunardi has Louisville slotted in a play-in game in Dayton against UCLA for a No. 11 seed in the East Region.
Time will tell if the selection committee views U of L in the same favorable light, but it's sure to be a close call because the Cards have a gaping hole in their resume. They are only 3-10 against Quadrant One teams and have no signature wins, having lost all nine games they played against current members of the AP Top 25.
An upset of Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals would have undoubtedly punched its ticket to the Big Dance, but Louisville couldn't pull it off. In fact, it was more like a 'be careful what you wish for' moment for the Cards, who had made no secret of their desire to play the Cavaliers again to try and extract revenge and a measure of redemption for last week's heartbreaking, last-second 67-66 defeat.
Didn't happen, not even close. Thursday's 75-58 loss in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., represented the most points a Virginia team had scored against Louisville in nine ACC games, the fewest the Cards had scored in the last four meetings, and the 17-point margin was six more than the combined margin in the two earlier games this season.
"Well, we were hoping third time was a charm against these guys," Padgett said. "There's a reason why they're No. 1 in the country, and it was evident today."
Still, the Cards put some pressure on Virginia (29-2). After falling behind by 17 points, 36-19, in the first half when they were limited to two baskets over a nine-minute stretch and were outscored 20-5, they roared back in the second half.
U of L, which trailed 38-27 at halftime, used an 11-2 surge spurred by Ray Spalding and reserve Jordan Nwora, to close to within 56-52 with 8:54 remaining and had wrested the momentum away from Virginia.
But the Cavs quickly recovered, scored the next eight points and clamped down defensively, which is their trademark. Louisville missed nine of its last 10 shots and committed three turnovers as Virginia pulled away again.
"We just didn't have enough left in the tank after we cut it to four," Padgett said. "We got lost a couple times on defense and they exposed us a few times, but there were also times when we played 28, 29 great seconds of great defense and they hit a really, really tough shot."
"They made a nice run and we answered," UVA coach Tony Bennett said. "We got enough stops and guys made some good plays. Because we played them three times, we know how they can pull up and hit shots and touch the paint. So I just think we tightened up a little more, and a majority of the game they had to earn their baskets."
U of L shot 43 percent from 3-point range (9-21), but only 36.7 percent overall (18-49) and was outscored in the paint by a whopping 42-16, with the Cards concentrating on containing Virginia's deadly trio of 3-point shooters. The Cavs hit 52.5 percent of their field goal attempts, becoming the only team to shoot 50 percent or above against UofL this season. They were 7-of-18 (39 percent) from distance.
"With the way they shoot the ball it's hard not to try to pay attention to the 3-point line," Padgett said. "They're really, really talented on offense, which I think has gone unnoticed by a lot of people how good they are offensively because they can hurt you in so many ways."
The player who did the most damage this time was sophomore guard Kyle Guy, who got 19 points and seven rebounds despite playing with a brace on his left knee, which he sprained in the season finale against Notre Dame last Saturday. He hit 3-of-4 treys. UVA had four other players in double figures, including De'Andre Hunter, who hit the game-winning dagger last week, with 12 points.
Spalding led Louisville with 16 points, while Deng Adel added 13 and V.J. King 11. Quentin Snider, who had scored a game-high 19 points with six assists in the win over Florida State, missed seven of his eight shots, scored three points and had three assists and two turnovers.
The Louisville contingent is to head home Friday and Padgett said he will conduct only light workouts Saturday and Sunday. The players and coaches will gather at an undisclosed location to watch the selection show and find out if they will make the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in a row (except for the self-imposed 2016 ban when they would have been a cinch with a 23-8 record).
"It's not up to us, but without a doubt these guys earned it," Padgett said. "And you can't possibly tell me that we're not one of the best 68 teams in the country. Anybody who's seen us play, anybody who watched our game against the No. 1 team in the country a week ago, knows that we are one of the best 68."
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.