By Michael Grassley
Kihei Clark scored 18 points, including a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left, and No. 22 Virginia blew a 14-point second half lead to beat No. 10 Louisville 57-54.
“I’m always confident. My teammates allow me to be confident and I know they trust me to make the play whether it’s a pass or a shot,” Clark said after his second clutch 3-pointer in the closing seconds in the past four games. He also hit one at Virginia Tech, giving the Cavaliers a 56-53 victory on Feb. 26.
Coach Tony Bennett continues to be impressed by his 5-9 sophomore.
“He’s done it and he continues to do it and he made the big shot,” Bennett said. “… I can’t say enough about what he’s going going on inside here.”
Virginia (23-7, 15-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), the reigning national champion that lost four of five in one stretch this year, tied with the Cardinals for second in the league when No. 7 Florida State beat Boston College 80-62.
No one, it seems, is playing better than the Cavaliers, who won for the 10th time in 11 games with six of the last seven by three or fewer.
“Did you think it was going to end any other way?” Bennett joked, noting that the Cavaliers “were really close when we were losing and we’re still really close when we’re winning.” His team, he added, “moved the needle a little bit.”
Mamadi Diakite added 17 points and eight rebounds for Virginia in his final game at John Paul Jones Arena. Jay Huff scored 11 points and blocked a shot from in close by Steven Enoch with 51 seconds and grabbed the rebound.
Jordan Nowora had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Enoch scored 11 points for the Cardinals (24-7, 15-5). They lost for the second time in three games, but not before making it very interesting.
The Cavaliers used a 27-8 run spanning halftime to open a 40-28 lead with just under 15 minutes to play, but Nwora scored the first 10 points in a 16-6 burst that pulled them even at 51 with 5:11 left. Ryan McMahon and Darius Perry hit 3-pointers to end the burst, the latter Perry’s only field goal of the game.
“We were letting our offensive struggles that Virginia had everything to do with really contribute to not having our motor running like it should be on the defensive end,” Mack said.
Diakite’s free throw broke the tie, and after Louisville missed, Clark made a 3-pointer, setting off a celebration. The Cardinals only points the rest of the way came on a too-late 3-point by Samuell Williamson with 0.03 seconds left.