Schnellenberger’s promise, Louisville baseball & sacred cows

By Matt Osborn
mvosbo01@gmail.com

Budweiser in hand, I’m mingling amongst the rag-tag band of pedestrians assembled along the warning track at Jim Patterson Stadium. We don’t know each other and come from walks of life as different as they are disconnected, but a distinct commonality make us a we on this brisk Saturday morning: we’re all Cardinal fans, and all of us have foregone the other endless possibilities that Possibility City lends to its citizens on weekends to watch the University of Louisville play baseball today.

Card Game is pleased to welcome Matt Osborn as a guest author. Huge UofL fan and possessor of numerous degrees.

I remember when I started going to UofL baseball games. I was still an undergraduate student at the time. The stadium was nice and new, the beer was cold, and sold, the hot dogs were warm and, on the right night, dirt cheap, and a valid student ID doubled as a voucher for general admission: glass half full, students got free tickets, glass half empty, renting a seat at Jim Patterson for an afternoon ran me around five grand. But that’s a conversation for another day: the fact of the matter was that I had every reason to go watch the Cards play the great American past time, except, of course, a desire to watch Louisville baseball.

My University was a football powerhouse, a national contender in basketball: baseball was a side show, a season between seasons, an excuse to skip class and drink beer on weekdays with the fiery New England Equestrian girls who, for some reason, saw it fit to hang out with me and my undeserving friends.

Fast forward a decade, and I’m impatiently waiting on an opening pitch with an eagerness normally reserved for a tip or kick off. I study batting practice as furiously as the folks at the Brandeis Building doing bar preparation. I had done some bar preparation of my own at the Granville, which has been a pre-game tradition of mine since the days I enjoyed the company of those infamous horse ladies from Connecticut. Ten years have gone by since this ritual was first inaugurated, and both myself and the baseball team have enjoyed a considerable amount of growth and maturation in that time. I look on as the second baseman for Boston College takes a cut at a fairly decent curve ball, which he rockets foul down the left field line. I’m taken back a couple of Junes ago, when David Olmedo-Barrera sent a similar pitch in a similar direction. A call was subsequently made from a television monitor in Atlanta that could have been decided from a ladder on Third Street, and the Cards’ season was over. The following year, a shocking walk off grand slam was given up by power closer Zach Burdi after loading the bases with a three run lead: once again, what seemed to be a date with postseason destiny became a stunning loss, ending a season defined by excellence and success with a question mark, in lieu of the exclamation point the Cardinal faithful hope for and, at this point, expect.       

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NCAA focuses on sexual activity, Pitino is the easiest target

That dark cloud is back, the one emanating from the NCAA investigation of the University of Louisville basketball program, casting an ugly shadow over an already deeply scarred Belknap Campus.

The NCAA enforcement staff, one of the world’s slowest deliberative bodies, has finally gotten back to UofL’s response on a charge that Rick Pitino did not monitor the activities of Andre McGee. The reaction from the NCAA is disturbing, claiming that the UofL coach should have been much more active in supervising McGee.

This coming from an organization that goes overboard to promote racial equality, essentially suggesting in its response that Pitino should have micro-managed McGee. That somehow the coach should have known that illicit activities were occurring at Minardi Hall. That the individual Pitino made Director of Basketball Operations was not worthy of his trust. That Pitino should have been looking over McGee’s shoulder.

Courtesy of Kelly Dickey

If Pitino is guilty of anything, he is at fault for trusting McGee not to drag UofL’s basketball program into the gutter.  As a result, the university has been exposed to shame and ridicule. The coach’s demands for strict adherence to NCAA rules were obviously ignored. And his reputation, personally and professionally, has taken a major blow.

Simply because Pitino trusted McGee.

In essence, what the NCAA is suggesting is that Pitino knew that McGee was up to no good. The NCAA enforcement committee avoids making a direct accusation but its response also could be interpreted to mean that Pitino actually knew what was occurring at Minardi Hall. 

Pitino has probably produced more successful college basketball coaches than anyone in the profession. Billy Donovan, Tubby Smith, Ralph Willard, Kevin Willard, Jim O’Brien, Mick Cronin, Travis Ford, and Scott Davenport, just to name a few. He didn’t achieve that monitoring their every move.

The UofL coach no doubt had high hopes for Andre McGee, hoping he would join that group some day. McGee probably would have followed a similar path had he acted responsibly. From all indications, McGee just wasn’t mature enough to handle the expectations.

As a result, Pitino may well be subject to a severe penalty, possibly a temporary suspension similar to that incurred by Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Boeheim was suspended for nine games for a number of years of illegal recruiting activities. 

The difference is that Boeheim was actively involved. There is no evidence that Pitino knew, or should have known, that illicit activities were occurring at Minardi Hall. No evidence whatsoever.

Pitino’s knowledge, or lack of it, seems to be beside the point. The enforcement committee report goes into great detail on the sexual activity and seems determined to ensure that someone pays dearly for it. Rick Pitino just happens to be in the line of fire.

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What slump? Mariya Moore lifts UofL women over Tennessee

Ciera Johnson maneuvers against Tennessee’s Mercedes Johnson for her only shot in the game. It was a good one, helping the University of Louisville to a 75-64 win in the second round game.

Mariya Moore had gotten into such a shooting slump of late she seemed to be avoiding shots altogether. Looking around for her teammates, taking shots only when she was there was no other choice.

Extra time in the gym reaped dividends for Mariya Moore and company.

Three-point shots? No way because as Coach Jeff Walz pointed out, Mariya had made only one 3-point in 21 attempts over the past five games. The coach urging her to get in the gym, to keep working on her shot, and keep on shooting. And she did, day after day over the last week or so.

Moore’s persistence reaped big dividends for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team Monday. She connected on seven of 10 field goal attempts, including five of five from behind the 3-point line, for 19 points.

Her newfound accuracy, when combined with 23 points from Asia Durr and 14 points from Myisha Hines-Allen, sparked the Cardinals to an important 75-64 win over Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA tournament. A crowd of 5,698 was on hand at the KFC Yum! Center.

A reporter said afterward that Mariya made a motion like she was putting pistols in a holster after another long 3-pointer.  “I was so happy because Coach always stresses how we need to get in the gym. After the ACC Tournament I’ve been in the gym as much as I can, so to finally see the hard work paying off … So I don’t even know what happened, really. I’m going to have to look at the replays, but it just came out.”

Jeff Walz’ team is moving on, contemplating another showdown against Baylor.

Walz added that she could have turn cartwheels as far as he was concerned. “As we keep telling them, shooters shoot,” he said. “What I did is I told her after we came back from the ACC Tournament, I’m like, Mariya, if you trust me with anything, when you shoot, follow your shot. Just run after it. Shoot it and go after it.

Asia Durr was thrilled after the win, which sent Tennessee home for the first time in the second round in 22 appearances in the NCAA tournament. 

“We didn’t know that, but they do have a great team. I was just so excited,” said Durr. “We fought hard. This was a great game. Our fans are so amazing and I’m so happy to be here.”

Myisha Hines-Allen came through her umpteenth double-double, pulling down 13 rebounds to going with 14 points. Pumping a fist, it seemed, only every other rebound. “I just kept telling myself one more stop, one more stop, and we’re going to be that much closer to a win,” she said.

“We were able to do it in front of an amazing crowd. The crowd was loud. When we were down, they were still with us, even when we were up, they were still with us. We were able to get this win not only for ourselves and for our confidence going into our next game, but for our fans as well.”

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Shades of Jeff Ruland, Moritz Wagner dominates Louisville

Someone around here once said if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Possibly true but there seemed to be little difference from beginning to the bitter end this year.

One long basketball season for the University of Louisville, a few peaks but too many valleys. A failure to maintain focus on defense, accompanied by the lack of any sustainable offensive threat. proving fatal in the end in games that counted the most.

So many times UofL was unable to finish games, to rise to the challenge, even when it was obvious what the opposition was going to do.

The Cardinals caving again on Sunday, giving up still another nice lead in the second half, this time to Michigan 73-69. The loss sending the Louisville home after the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Jeff Ruland had 30 points and 21 rebounds for Iona against the 1980 champs.

Never has the pick and roll looked so easy as it did for Michigan’s Moritz Wagner in a 26-point performance. Probably the most dominating performance by a big man against Louisville in three decades.

The last time was when Iona’s Jeff Ruland scored 30 points in a 77-60 win over the eventual national champs in 1980. Iona, which was coached by the late Jim Valvano, had a 35th year reunion a couple of years ago to celebrate that win. 

One of the most maddening things about this team was the inability of Louisville’s big guys to hit the close-in shots or cash in on the gimme’s, consistently missing wide open, uncontested dunks all season long. Followup tip-ins always a bonus, coming as a complete surprise all too often.

Reminiscent of the first couple of seasons after Rick Pitino arrived in Louisville.  Lack of confidence, not much scoring from the bench, a poor shooting team, shaky from the field and on the free throw line, and unable to defend the basket. 

When the deterioration sat in in the second half, it was quickly apparent there was not going to be a happy ending. Not surprisingly for close followers of this Louisville team. 

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Shots not falling but Mitchell focused, Louisville moves to next round

A little shaky getting out of the gate, understandable with so few members of the University of Louisville basketball team having NCAA tournament experience. Good to get those first few minutes out of the way, get down to business.

Not the best of starts for Donovan Mitchell, his first ever appearance in the tourney, missing all of his first eight field goal attempts in the first half.  Actually a good day for Mitchell, not allowing his lack of scoring to affect the rest of his game. He would wind up with nine points, 10 rebounds, fives assists and three steals.

Rick Pitino happy for Donovan Mitchell’s all around game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“I was very impressed with Donovan Mitchell,” said Coach Rick Pitino afterwards. “I’ve been trying to get him to focus on other things other than scoring. If it’s not your night because you’re the main target to do other things … To me, he’s come a long way.”

Equally encouraging was the fact that his teammates picked up the slack in UofL’s 78-63 win over Jacksonville State in the tournament’s opening round. Playing aggressively, dominating the backboard 36-23, making 11 of 14 free throw attempts, and hitting 48.4% of their field goal attempts, including a third of their 3-point attempts.

Fifth-year senior Mangok Mathiang looking very comfortable around the basket lately, connecting on eight of his 13 field goal attempts, and leading his team in scoring with 18 points. Made both of his free throw attempts as well. Hopefully, he’s finally getting it in the twilight of his college career, maybe just the right time for UofL.

“Coach has made a big point of trying to go play inside-out,” said Mathiang. “And it’s been working out pretty well for me. A lot of guys that are not expecting me to make a move in the post and going up and scoring. I mean, it’s working out pretty well for me and for my teammates because I’m kicking that out as well.”

Deng Adel may have taken his play to another level, becoming one of his team’s most consistent players, reliable on both offense and defense. Adel making six of seven field goal attempts, including both of his 3-point attempts, for 16 points. Two of two free throw attempts.

A collective sigh of relief for free throw concerns, with the Cardinals making 11 of their 14 free throw attempts. Quentin Snider made one of two attempts, but Anas Mahmoud missed both of his.

Come on, Anas. Every shot matters this time of the season. Especially with a rematch Sunday of the schools that competed for the national championship in 2013.

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