Ugly Christmas sweaters, but Louisville women are 12-0

Ugly Christmas Sweater Night brought out the holiday spirit for the last home game until January 4th (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

A game engulfed in multiple layers of colorful and outlandish apparel,  Santa’s helpers and even Santa Claus himself, an early Ugly Christmas Sweater night for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team.

Visions of sugar plums for the UofL players, a total nightmare for the visiting Tennesee State team. The Cardinals jumping out to a 12-0 lead over the Tigers and never looking back. UofL winning 95-56 before a crowd of 5,782 at the KFC Yum! Center.

Coach Jeff Walz was among the many who were dazzled by the hustle of Jazmine Jones (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

A little too early maybe to be in full Christmas spirit with the big day two-and-a-half weeks away but the crowd was making its best effort. But the runaway such an easy win, close to boring, the hall falling near silent at times. Thankfully the pep band erupting in choruses of Christmas carols of Frosty the Snowman and Silent NIght as the opposition lined up at the free throw line.

Seven UofL players scoring in double figures in a tuneup for the University of Kentucky in Lexington.  Asia Durr, Jazmine Jones and Sam Fuehring each scoring 12 points, Biana Dunham, Myisha Hines-Allen and Kylie Shook adding 11 points, and Dana Evans with 10.

The win improved UofL’s record to 12-0. Kentucky is 8-3, having lost three of its last five games.  They will clash at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Fun for Mahmoud, Spalding, Louisville breezes past Bryant

Anas Mahmoud (featured photo) goes unmolested for two of his 17 points as he continued to dominate the boards. Mahmoud leads cheers from the bench with the game out of reach, along with Lance Thomas (left) and Jacob Redding (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Not a game for the ages. If fans remember anything from the University of Louisville basketball team’s 102-50 romp over Bryant, it will be the vision of Anas Mahmoud intercepting a pass at mid-court, running full stride, and finishing with a dunk.

Having fun again, Mahmoud waving a towel on the sideline as the bench puts the finishing touches on a third win in a row. The UofL c0-captain laughing and cheering, clearly enjoying himself, creating new levels of chemistry.

Ray Spalding goes up for one his nine rebounds. He had 11 points in the game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The 7-foot senior from Egypt tying Quentin Snider and Deng Adel for scoring honors with 17 points. Pulling down nine rebounds, making three assists, blocking three shots and that marvelous steal that somehow never made the official stats.

Pretty consistent over the last three games if not against the stiffest of competition, Mahmoud contributing a total of 44 points and 25 rebounds. Avoiding foul problems for the most part, making it difficult for people to shoot, picking up some good habits. Just needs to carry them forward against ever tougher competition.

Not a bad night for the other big guy either, one Ray Spalding coming through with 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals? Good to see that side of Ray, hopefully gaining some much need confidence, building for the future.

If Louisville is to do anything special this season, Spalding will have had to be right there with Mahmoud, and it will have started in the pre-conference portion of the schedule.

New clutch players emerge as UofL outlasts Indiana

Ryan McMahan (in top photo) returns from an eight-game absence to provide some much needed leadership. Above, Ray Spalding swats the basketball away with one of his five blocks during the win over Indiana (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Fans needing time after this one to catch their collective breath in a game that could have gone in several different directions for either team.

A couple of premier basketball programs struggling to find their way under new head coaches, with lots of misdirection, uncertainty and awkwardness during the adolescence phase of the birthing cycle. Searching for leadership, natural or otherwise, someone to cut through the clumsiness, provide some direction.

A handful of players would step up for the University of Louisville at various points in the game, leading the Cardinals to a much needed 71-62 win over Indiana before a crowd of 20,030 Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Malik Williams, for example, entering the game at the 8:24 mark in the first half, his team behind 25-15, barely hanging on, needing something good to happen.  The 6-foot-11 freshman would make good on three of three 3-point field goal attempts over the next six minutes to pull UofL to within one point at the half.

Deng Adel would lead all scorers with 16 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Also instrumental in that first half resurgence was Ryan McMahon, who had missed the first eight games of the season. He, too, would also sink a three-pointer during that late second half rally. He will score only three points in the game but the highlight reel will include two marvelous assists to Anas Mahmoud and Dwayne Sutton in the second half.

Ray Spalding would live up to his pre-season hype for a second straight game, coming through with five blocks, two of them when Louisville absolutely had to have them. He would wind up with 10 points and two assists. He had 10 points, four blocks and four steals against Siena on Tuesday.

Deng Adel and Quentin Snider, UofL’s two leading scorers with 16 and 13 points, respectively, would need all the backup they could get on Saturday and they got it. Players creating new roles for themselves, new layers of confidence, and providing something to build on.

Attendance dip a concern for some but there are bennies

Lots of discussion on some sports talk radio shows about empty seats at the KFC Yum! Center for men’s and women’s basketball games. As if that is some sort of a surprise considering what has happened in the University of Louisville athletic department over the past few months.

The ironic part is that attendance for both UofL programs surpasses the vast majority of other schools for the same sport. Most of the concern seems to come from media people who haven’t paid for a ticket in years. Some are not native Louisvillians, and the younger ones certainly weren’t around when attendance was a legitimate issue.

Need to give UofL fans more credit. They've been through a lot but they've always been supportive.

The UofL men’s team is averaging 18,028 after the first five games while the women are attracting 6,078 after their first seven. Most basketball programs would be highly envious of those numbers. One suspects the analysts aren’t looking past the empties in the most expensive sections.

Still, one must acknowledge that attendance is down a bit, probably for a number of reasons. Significant fallout inevitably followed the stripper scandal and the FBI sting, including reactions to the abrupt departures of Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich.  Changes in the boards of trustees and in the University administration added to the discontent.

Attendance could also be affected by the fact that pre-conference schedules have never been that popular, with teams seeking to find their identities in  games against lesser foes. The basketball season begins earlier every year, directly competing for fans’ attention when the college football season is reaching its climax. Then, of course, there are the ever increasing cost of season tickets and contributions, sometimes forcing fans to make hard choices.

There’s also the attraction of big-screens TVs at home, which provide better views of the games than viewing them in person. Not having to pay $5.50 for a bag of popcorn, $7 for a Pepsi in a souvenir cup, or $8 bucks for a beer in a clear plastic cup. 

Whether the dip in attendance is a problem depends on one’s perspective. There are still more occupied seats than there are empty seats, especially for the men’s games.  From one who attended games at Freedom Hall in the Sixties and Seventies where attendance averaged between 8,000 and 9,000, having attendance numbers at the KFC Yum! Center exceed 18,000 for most pre-conference games is never a bad thing. 

Actually there are some advantages to fans for lower attendance, including easier access, better choices of seats, and shorter lines for concessions and restrooms. The people at lesser-attended games seem to be more knowledgeable and more loyal to UofL sports. Getting out of the parking garages after games is much easier as well.

Some, including Jeff Walz, the women’s basketball coach, have expressed disappointment in attendance, urging people to show up for games. The last time I looked, the women were averaging over 6,000 persons a game, a far cry from the 1,000 or so prior to the Angel McCoughtry era. My experience from the earlier days is that constantly encouraging fans to go out to games has rarely much of an effect. Even free tickets and $1 coupons didn’t help much in the Seventies. 

Need to give UofL fans more credit. They’ve been through a lot but they’ve always been supportive. They are fiercely loyal when it comes to supporting the Cardinals, and they will be back soon enough. The conference portion of the schedules is just around the corner as well.

Meanwhile, enjoy the extra leg room, the greater availability of tickets and the ability to easily move to better seats while you can.

Mahmoud, Spalding live big, Louisville routs Siena

The light switch may have finally been flipped for Anas Mahmoud in an 86-60 win for the University of Louisville over Siena College before a crowd of 17,215 at the KFC Yum! Center. 

Whether the switch remains in the on position depends on whether he continues to be an active participant  or is only passively involved. One can hope that he stays as engaged as he was during the second half. Apparently something he heard at halftime got him going.

Ray Spalding and Jordan Nwora battle for a rebound,with Spalding prevailing this night (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The 7-foot senior center went from a decent first half to a dominant second half, stuffing the stat sheet — dunking on Siena over and over in final 20 minutes — on his way to a near triple double, with 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots.

Mahmoud has shown brief glimpses of potential during the past three seasons but nothing resembling his latest showing, energy that was lacking from him in the team’s two losses. Not like overwhelming Siena is anything to write home about, but at least it’s a start. 

“Ray (Spalding) and I need to make things happen under the basket to take some of the pressure off the guards,” he said after the game. Indeed.  He also could added something about the intensity level he brought to the game in that second half.

Spalding, meanwhile, was scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking four shots, and making four steals. Spalding and Mahmoud had managed only two points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s two-point loss to Seton Hall.

So Mahmoud and Spalding came out of their shells, at least temporarily, confirming that they may have the ability to live up to their potential. Nothing to get overly excited about, not until they live up to the talk, the promise, and prove they can do it and do it consistently again better competition.

An indication of whether the switch has really flipped for these guys will come soon enough, with UofL entertaining Indiana at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.