No. 3 Virginia vs. No. 18 Louisville — a breakdown

The Cavaliers travel to take on the Cardinals

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Junior guard Kyle Guy has scored 20 or more points in the Cavaliers' last 3 games.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

The Cavalier Daily sports staff breaks down some players to watch and keys to the game for No. 3 Virginia’s game against No. 18 Louisville Saturday at noon.

After losing to Duke for the second time this season, the Cavaliers (23-2, 11-2 ACC) have regained their momentum, winning three consecutive games. The Cardinals (18-9, 9-5 ACC) remain inconsistent, with losses to Pittsburgh (12-15, 2-12 ACC) and wins against the likes of No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Michigan State. Most recently, they lost on Wednesday night against Syracuse, struggling to crack the Orange’s zone defense. Virginia has had Louisville’s number as of late, going 6-0 in the last six games between the two teams. That said, the Cardinals have a new head coach, Chris Mack, and three new leading scorers. This game should prove to be a tough road test for the Cavaliers against a team that came within inches of beating No. 1 Duke.

Players to watch:

Junior guard Kyle Guy

Since the Duke game, Kyle Guy has been cooking. Guy has had 20 or more points in the past three games, in which he has shot 51.2 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from three-point range. In these games, the Cavaliers haven’t been perfect offensively, but Guy has led the charge. Against North Carolina, Guy had 13 of his 20 points in the second half, including two threes on back-to-back possessions that clinched the Cavaliers’ victory. Against Notre Dame, Guy had the first eight points of the game for Virginia and a decisive three-pointer to put the game out of reach. Against Virginia Tech, Guy came out scorching hot, lifting a Cavaliers team without much going on offensively to a halftime lead behind his 17 first half points. In addition to his smooth shooting stroke, Guy has been getting it done in other ways. His seven rebounds against Virginia Tech were a team-high, including one that led to a decisive putback dunk. In addition, he has become more adept at getting to the basket this year, making him one of the hardest players to guard in college basketball. Against Louisville, look for Guy to continue his scoring success against a team that allowed two Pittsburgh guards to combine for 54 points earlier this year.

Junior guard Braxton Key

Since transferring to Virginia, Key has made great defensive contributions. He’s the team’s leading rebounder with 5.9 rebounds a game. He has the third most blocks on the team with 15 this season and has the second most steals on the team with 27. Virginia will need him to continue to bring that defensive pressure, especially against a Louisville team that gets discouraged when offense isn’t coming easily to them. However, Key can also be an offensive weapon for the Cavaliers. While he has struggled offensively for much of conference play, the 6-foot-8 guard dropped two big three pointers against Virginia Tech Monday night that helped the Cavaliers seal a six-point win. If Key can become an option for Virginia, like he was in the second half against the Hokies, it’ll help give diversify the team’s offense. Guy, Jerome and Hunter all come into games heavily scouted, so if Key can emerge as a consistent scorer for Virginia, it’ll give the Cavaliers another means to score when those players are heavily guarded.

Keys to the game:

Win the turnover battle

Lately, the Cavaliers, who average 9.4 turnovers per game, have been a little sloppier with the ball than usual, averaging 12.5 turnovers per game over their last six games. Virginia wins basketball games by executing better than the other team and playing a clean, fundamental game. Because of their playing style, the Cavaliers get only so many possessions per game and cannot afford to squander them by being loose with the ball. That said, the last few games should be an anomaly for what remains one of the best teams in the nation at not turning the ball over, and Virginia should be able to out-execute Louisville. The Cardinals, on the other hand, often struggle to not turn over the ball. They turned over the ball 17 times in their loss against Duke, including numerous times down the stretch, turned the ball over 23 times in their loss against Florida State and turned it over 18 times against Pittsburgh on Feb. 9. Virginia’s packline defense should force Louisville into mistakes and provided the Cavaliers remain composed on offense, they should be able to beat a team that shot the ball just 25.9 percent from the field against Syracuse on Wednesday.

Guard the three-point shot

Louisville has had a rocky last three games. Against Duke, the Cardinals blew a 23-point lead. They just escaped with a one-point win over Clemson and were thoroughly defeated by Syracuse Wednesday night. Prior to losing to Duke, Louisville had been shooting 46.7 percent overall and 38 percent from three in conference play. However, in the past three games, the Cardinals have been averaging 34.2 percent overall and 28.7 percent from beyond the arc. If Virginia can make the three point shot continue to be a source of trouble for the Cardinals, it should give them a strong advantage in the game. Besides a lights-out performance from Duke — when the Blue Devils shot 61.9 percent from three — none of Virginia’s recent opponents have been particularly successful from beyond the arc. North Carolina shot 30 percent from three, Notre Dame shot 26.7 and Virginia Tech shot a mere 10.7. So, the Cavaliers should be equipped to stop Louisville from converting on three-point opportunities, which in turn will give Virginia a good shot at controlling the game.

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