Although their shared history is limited, the two schools shared several intense men's basketball matchups in the 1980s with national implications. Though these previous games were played in Freedom Hall and University Hall, the two teams will now play in two of the five largest basketball arenas of the 15-member ACC: the 14,593 capacity on-campus John Paul Jones Arena at U-Va., and the 22,090 capacity KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville.
Virginia, led by center Ralph Sampson, dictated the tempo of a game at Freedom Hall where he faced off with such athletic Louisville greats as Rodney McCray. His brother Scooter McCray grabbed ten rebounds, the same as Sampson, and Louisville overall outrebounded the Cavaliers 32–21. But Virginia held Louisville to 40% field goal shooting, while making over 50% of their own shots. Moreover, Virginia forced 16 Louisville turnovers and committed only 11 on their end. Jerry Eaves scored 21 for Louisville, but Sampson had 26 for Virginia, while future Virginia coach Jeff Jones added 17. The game was in some doubt until Virginia closed with an 18–6 run in the last five minutes of play. Despite the lopsided outcome of the game, Louisville would later advance to the Final Four while top-ranked Virginia would fall in a great upset to the UAB Blazers in the Sweet Sixteen.
Sampson had one of the finest games of his college career, making a statement in a game between two Top 10 teams nationally televised from University Hall. Highly touted Louisville was never really in the game, as Sampson exploded for 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots while going 14-for-18 from the field. Louisville would have the last laugh, however, ending the season ranked #2 to Virginia's #3, and advancing to the Final Four for the second straight year while Virginia was upset again in an earlier round, this time by eventual champions NC State. Virginia would itself journey to the Final Four for the second time in four seasons the following year, without Sampson.
The Houston Rockets, with two of the top three picks in the 1983 NBA Draft, would take both Sampson (#1 overall) and Rodney McCray (#3 overall) with these picks after the end of the season.
The Cardinals, not the Cavaliers, now enjoyed the services of one of college basketball's most celebrated centers in the late 1980s. Pervis Ellison quietly controlled the game down low against the Cavaliers, scoring 14 points, pulling down 7 rebounds, and blocking 4 Virginia shots. After freshman Bryant Stith pulled Virginia close with a three-point play late in the game, "Never Nervous" Pervis' own three-point play gave Louisville a five-point lead with a minute and a half to play, and highly ranked Louisville held on against an unranked Virginia team visiting Freedom Hall.