Wayne Blackshear leaves the floor for the last time, the cotton wad still plugging his right nostril, his jersey covered with red stains, having played on of his better games in a University of Louisville basketball uniform. He wanted this one badly.
Wrapping up a career that included participation in a national championship, two Final Fours, two Elite Eights, and four Sweet Sixteen’s. He was reaching his potential at the right time, going out with 28 points in his final game.
Even his best wasn’t good enough, with UofL managing only six field goals after the first half. The Cardinals had made 17 of 32 attempts during the first 20 minutes. The scoring drought a recipe for disaster, opening the door for Michigan State’s 76-70 overtime win in the final game of the NCAA’s East Region.
— Montrezl Harrell looking beaten and battered, still feeling the effects of a second half in which he appeared to tire, lacking that familiar aggression, struggling with shots he had been making all season long. He had been making it look easy in the first half, raising his dunk total to more than 220 during his career.
Harrell was clearly fatigued, missing his final five shots while making only five of nine free throw attempts for the day. He collected most of 16 points in the first half. Thirty-nine minutes was a long, long time in this game. One has to wonder whether he would have welcomed more relief from Jaylen Johnson.
Harrell will not be remembered for his last game, however. He had a decision to make after last season — go pro or return to UofL. That decision made Louisville a contender in the ACC and the NCAA this season. Setting the standard for all future Louisville forwards with all those power moves around the basket.
— Terry Rozier collecting the majority of his 13 ponts on break away lay ups after steals. Michigan State was clearly prepared for him. And UofL appeared to lose confidence in the offense that got the team to this point, forcing Rozier to sling a few shots at the basket, which rarely works well.
— Mangok Mathiang missing a tip that could have won it for UofL with 3.2 seconds left. Then bouncing a free throw in to get to overtime, unable to hit the second try that could have sent UofL to another Final Four. If ever anyone should be motivated going into during the summer it should be Mangok.
— Quentin Snyder making a rare mistake, giving up the ball, with time running out in the overtime. Give him credit, however, for accepting the challenge after Chris Jones’ departure, accepting the challenge, playing a key role in Louisville’s surprising run during the tournament. The experience will be invaluable as he continues to develop over his career.
The season ends just short of an 11th appearance in the Final Four. An impressive start during the first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, reaffirming the tradition of excellence that is University of Louisville basketball.
The only good news is the University of Louisville women’s basketball team won’t have to face UConn on Monday in the championship game of the NCAA’s Albany bracket. The women haven’t beaten the Huskies since the early Ninties and weren’t likely to get it done this season.
Every flaw in UofL’s complexion was exposed during an 82-66 loss to Dayton sending the Cardinals home after their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. Dayton was the better team, taking full advantage of UofL’s inconsistent shooting on offense and lack of movement under the basket on defense.
Louisville making good on only 23 of 73 shots from the field, including 1 of 15 attempts from the 3-point line. Dayton, meanwhile, connecting on more than 50 percent of theirs, including two 3-pointers. The Flyers were almost impenetrable around the basket, swatting away seven shots, compared to only two blocks for UofL.
UofL was very much in the game at the 8 minute mark, trailing 55-53, but could manage only five more points the rest of the way while handing Dayton 15 points at the free throw line.
A premature ending for five Louisville seniors who won 114 games during the past four seasons, the most in the history of the program. When they were good, they were very good, always competitive (except for UConn games) in the rare losses.
— Everybody’s favorite, Jude Schimmel, never throwing in the towel, attempting again to get the offense started in the late going. However, in her final game, she could find the basket on only four of her 23 shots, with the Dayton defenders anticipating her every move. Her confidence and personality will be missed, no matter how her team does next season.
— Sara Hammond, the program’s first McDonald’s All-American recruit, wrapping up her career as she began it, never quite breaking through to the next level. She had some good games along the way, but was never able to attain offensive consistency. Three points, four rebounds on the way out.
— Bria Smith, blessed with amazing speed but slowed by whatever issues were limiting her progression, having lost her starting spot midway in the season. Showing a new promise as her career neared an end, turning in 12 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists before fouling out against Dayton.
— Shawnta’ Dyer and Sherrone Vails, each plagued by numerous injuries during their careers, limited to back up roles as seniors, contributing 12 and two points, respectively.
They will be missed for their contributions and what their team accomplished, so many memorable wins, and what might have been.
University of Louisville basketball fans can come up for air now. Their team is back where UofL belongs, returning to another NCAA Regional championship game, just 40 minutes of heart-stopping action away from another possible Final Four appearance.
Sometimes it seems as if UofL fans are just willing this to happen, hanging on every dribble, every pass, every rebound, every shot, every look, every expression, weathering the rough spots. Rewarded for their perseverance and patience with another memorable tournament run.
Louisville is very much in the hunt, thank you, with a 75-65 win over North Carolina State, in a game that was almost a complete turnaround from the 74-65 loss to the Wolf Pack on Valentine’s Day. Taking them seriously this time, totally focused, sticking together, running the offense, playing through the misses, taking the good ones.
As Assistant Coach Mike Balado testified after the game, there’s no one better than Rick Pitino at getting his players prepared for games, especially the big ones, getting young men to believe in themselves, knowing what to expect from the opposition, showing them how to win.
Pitino had one of those conversations with Anton Gill the other day, letting him know he believed in him despite the lack of playing time, telling him to be ready when his time came. One of those make-a-difference times in a player’s career. “I won’t let you down, Coach,” was Gill’s response to Pitino’s faith in him.
Gill’s moment would arrive after Wayne Blackshear collected his fourth foul at the 8:31 mark. He would respond with a runner to put UofL back on top and drain a 3-pointer from the right corner in a span of a minute. He would follow that up with a baseline drive for a 62-57 lead with 3:33 left.
“Coach believed in me,” he said. “I just wanted to make something happen.”
— Quentin Snider running the point with efficiency of a Peyton Siva, not affected by the big stage, no ups or downs for him, sticking to the game plan. Gaining confidence with each game, taking care of the ball, totally unflappable. Fourteen points, three assists, one turnover.
— Montrezl Harrell will someday be coaching, loves giving instructions almost as much as he does dunking. Both come naturally to him. Energetic from beginning to end this game, letting the celebrating go after the dunks, getting back quicker on defense. Twenty-four points, seven rebounds and a block.
— Terry Rozier finding his rhythm again on offense, a demon on the boards with 14 rebounds, an even bigger threat when he doesn’t burden himself and plays within the offense. Fourteen rebounds, 17 points and four assists during his relentless 40 minutes.
— Mangok Mathiang just needed to get a little better on offense to help his team. His early lay up a confidence builder for everyone associated with UofL. Not backing down on defense, always a barrier, especially when he’s blocking shots, three of them against N.C. State.
These guys are having fun, coming at the right time. They’ve earned the right to another shot at the Final Four.
Little respect for an opponent usually translates to less effort.
I remember thinking North Carolina State wasn’t much of a threat when they arrived at the KFC Yum! Center for the regular season game against the University of Louisville. The Wolf Pack had a 14-11 won-lost record and had lost five of their last six games.
UofL was ranked seventh in the Associated Press poll with a 20-4 record at the time. The Wolf Pack wasn’t considered much of a threat by many of the UofL fans in the crowd of 22,410 that day. Or by the players themselves.
Big mistake, the Cardinals appearing to simply go through the motions that day, up by five halfway through the first half, owning a 31-30 lead at intermission. Still no problem, the Wolf Pack will surely go away.
NC State was cornered, desperate for respect, struggling to remain relevant, sensing that Louisville didn’t want to be there, consistently a step slow, not attacking the basket, not making three’s, their heads still not in the game.
NC State guards Anthony Barber and Trevor Lacy would burn the slow-footed, half-hearted Cardinals on defense, scoring 21 and 14 points, respectively. NC State smell blood, went on top 46-43 at the 13:04 mark and never trailed again in a 74-65 win over Louisville, giving their season new life.
The Wolfpack held Louisville to 33 percent shooting and dominated near the basket, outscoring the Cardinals 32-16 in the paint. N.C. State outrebounded Louisville 47-37 with Caleb Martin and Beejay Anya each grabbing 10. Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier would manage only seven and three points, respectively. It was a game they would rather brush aside, an off day, and forget.
The Cardinals were handed their butts that day. A lesson they can’t afford to forget. The humbling will be very much on the minds of Louisville players on Friday, totally focused on NC State this time around.
Rick Pitino is feeling good about life in general, feeling great about his team, entertaining the sports media, dissecting North Carolina State, enjoying the “best time of the year.”
Delivering this memorable quote during his Tuesday press conference: “The only thing I conveyed to them was there’s a past, a present and a future. The past is what you were, the present is where you are now, and the future is where you’re going to be. And the tournament makes the future for all of us.”
Jude Schimmel is treasuring every moment she has left with the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, knowing the next game could be her last, not wanting it to end. Every trip down court to be treasured, adding to the legacy of the Schimmel sisters.
The younger sister of Shoni, Jude has emerged from a support role to a consistent leader in her senior season. One who doesn’t hesitate to take the big shots when those of her teammates are falling short, getting tentative or just going astray.
Things were going south in the second half in the NCAA quarterfinal game against South Florida. USF’s Courtney Williams was getting warmed up, going around UofL defenders with ease, scoring 10 of her team’s 13 points during UofL’s scoring drought. South Florida finally overtook the Cardinals, grabbing a 47-46 with 3:06 remaining.
Schimmel had missed one of those shots herself. But she would need to assume command, assessing the situation, Sara Hammond and Bria Smith each with four fouls, Myisha Hines-Allen with three. Her team embedded in a shooting slump, missing seven of their last eight shots. Not good with Courtney Williams using them as scrimmage material.
And Jude would take over, easing through the congestion, taking her defender one-on-one, getting the ball to fall through the basket. Not a pretty shot, but a good one, and Louisville was back on top to stay. Jude would score eight of her team’s final 12 points, including those graceful four-of-four attempts from the free throw line.
Schimmel would wind up as the team’s leading scorer with 13 points on a night when her team was making only 33 percent of their shots in still another defensive struggle. Also grabbing six rebounds, handing out five assists and making three steals.
When the game was over, UofL had defeated South Florida 62-50 on the Bulls’ home court, finally silencing the largest crowd to ever see a USF women’s game in Tampa. And UofL would advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season.
Jude’s not ready for it to be over. She clearly has some dreams of her own.