CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Mike Tobey’s last home game at Virginia may have been his best, and the No. 4 Cavaliers hope it’s just the start of a big finish.
The 7-foot senior had 15 points and a career-high 20 rebounds as Virginia stifled No. 11 Louisville for the second time this season, 68-46. The victory was the 20th in a row for the Cavaliers on their home court, the last 15 coming this season.
For Tobey, it was a revelation of sorts, inspired by a lunch he had recently with coach Tony Bennett. Often less aggressive than the big men he’s playing against, Tobey has made it a point to match that aggression of late, and he reaped the benefits on Saturday night.
”That’s something that I’ve been trying to work on going into the game,” Tobey said. He added that when he had lunch with Bennett, the message was to play with ”reckless abandon,” a concept that Tobey said freed him from losing focus when something goes awry.
His teammates were thrilled to see it pay off, especially since he figures to be a critical player in their national title hopes.
”He wants to be great and he has it in him,” Anthony Gill said. ”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.”
Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points and Anthony Gill 15 for the Cavaliers (24-6, 13-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), who began the game hoping No. 17 Duke would beat No. 8 North Carolina, giving Virginia a chance to claim a share of its third consecutive ACC regular-season title.
The Tar Heels prevailed, however, 76-72, and will be the top seed when the tournament opens Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
The game was the last of the season for Louisville (23-8, 12-6), which has self-imposed a postseason ban for this year for recruiting violations. As they did in a 63-47 loss to Virginia on Jan. 30 in Kentucky, they struggled mightily against Virginia’s Pack Line defense.
Donovan Mitchell led Louisville with 11 points and was their only player to score in double figures.
Louisville missed its first 11 field goal attempts, trailed 13-1 until their first field goal with 10:40 left in the first half and never threatened. The Cardinals trailed by as many as 22, finished 16 for 58 overall, or 27.6 percent, and were 4 for 22 on 3-point tries, 18.2 percent.
The school announced its postseason ban on Feb. 5, and coach Rick Pitino said the time since has been difficult, but ”it was much easier because of those guys,” he said. ”They gave such great effort. They played as it they were playing for a Number 1 seed.”
The Cavaliers suffocating defense had a lot to do with why they struggled offensively, Pitino said.
”The best you can hope for is an open 3 for a quick second,” he said.
The night, though, was a love fest for the Virginia seniors, who are now within six victories of having the most in a four-year period in program history. The Ralph Sampson-led Virginia teams in 1980-83 won 112 games, and this group has now won 107.
Brogdon, Gill, Tobey, Evan Nolte and walk-on Caid Kirven were honored to thunderous applause before their final home game, and Bennett pulled the scholarship players with about a minute to go, to more raucous applause. It grew only louder when Kirven, who had just one field goal in 10 prior appearances this season, promptly threw in his first 3-pointer of the season.
”It was just an awesome moment,” Gill said.
Nolte, given a rare start because it was senior night, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes as Virginia led 10-0.
Louisville: In its first three halves against Virginia this year, Louisville totaled 64 points, or 12 fewer than their 76-point average for all games.
Virginia: Nolte’s two 3-pointers marked his first game with multiple 3s this season. … Tobey had 18 rebounds in all of February.
The Cardinals’ season is over because of a self-imposed postseason ban.
Virginia will play Thursday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals in Washington, D.C