UConn still awaits Louisville women, special season or not

Sorry to see the 20-game win streak come to an end for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Such a great achievement, providing a distraction for a fan base needing a reprieve from an onslaught of bad news. A fan base that was believing this could be a special season.  

Jeff Walz has always said the goal is to win championships but UConn has always been an obstacle.

Indeed, the popularity of women’s basketball in Louisville was set to go through the roof. The Cardinals had attracted 12,614 for the game against Notre Dame last week and drew 14,248 against Florida State on Sunday.  They could have owned the town had they made one more basket.

Asking a lot, with the Cardinals making only 22 of 63 field goal attempts. Florida State’s shooting was even worse, connecting on only 19 of 68 shots. The Seminoles would stagger out of the KFC Yum! Center with the win. So motivated that they could overcame a dreadful shooting day on UofL’s home court.

The loss bringing the shocked and disappointed UofL women back down to earth, confirming Coach Jeff Walz’s belief that his team could ill afford to let off the gas. Having struggled to put a 9-10 Pittsburgh team away earlier in the week, he warned they needed to be more consistent.

The temptation for many UofL fans was to look ahead to the showdown at UConn on February 12. Wondering if this was the season when UofL could seriously challenge the Huskies. There was a growing chorus that Louisville had a great team, with Final Four potential, and was a possible national championship contender.

Explaining the big surge in attendance after averaging 6,000-plus for most of the season. In previous years, the Cardinals had averaged between 8,000 and 9,000 per game. Casual fans jumping back on the bandwagon,  believing UofL could possibly challenge UConn for once. 

The loss to Florida State a rude awakening, a realization that Louisville has to get better if it is to seriously challenge UConn, 18-0 and No. 1 in the latest Associated Press poll. They will meet February 12th at Hartford. UofL has lost 16 of 17 games against the Huskies, with their last win coming in 1993. UConn has pummeled the Cardinals by an average of 24.7 points in their last 10 meetings.

That was the game everybody was looking forward to, regardless of the one game-at-the-time mantra. A chance to finally challenge UConn, with one of Louisville’s best teams ever.

All they have proven thus far is that they can compete with the best and struggle against mediocre teams. No time to worry about UConn for now, not with  four road games at Miami, Virginia, Syracuse, and Clemson, and a home game against Wake Forest over the next couple of weeks. 

The UConn game now could be a major distraction, coming as it does in the midst of nine remaining ACC games.  Winning an ACC title has to come first on Jeff Walz’s list of priorities. Granted, however, a win over UConn would not be very far behind, during the regular season or in post-season play.

Louisville women in a yawner over Pittsburgh, now 20-0

Apparently a challenge for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team to get excited about playing Pittsburgh with all those empty seats at the Peterson Events Center.

Wake me when it’s over, the Cardinals ambulating to a 77-51 win over the Panthers.

The Cardinals led by only four points at the half and by 10 after three quarters. Bionca Dunham would erupt for six straight points in the fourth quarter to ignite a 16-0 run for the Cardinals. Dana Evans making life difficult for the Panthers as well, with three steals, two 3-pointers and eight points.

Yacine Diop of Pitt taking advantage of UofL’s lethargy and post Notre Dame letdown, hitting almost everything she threw at the basket in the first half, getting 19 points.  Her magical night ending when her shots stop falling and she runs out of fouls, but good for 26 points.

Myisha Hines-Allen getting off to a slow start but picking up her game in the second half. Chalking up the 37th double-double of her four-year tenure. She would score 13 points and grab a career high of 18 rebounds.

Asia Durr maybe saving her best stuff for the better teams, with only one 3-pointer and nine points. Steady Sam Fuehring good for 12 points.

Cardinals are 20-0 overall, 6-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

Rookie David Padgett gets Louisville a win in South Bend

Long time ago, way back, an eternity.

Nobody ever taking anything for granted in South Bend. Not with the University of Louisville basketball team not having a won a game against Notre Dame since 1994. Twenty-five years between UofL’s 85-83 overtime win that year and the Cardinals’ 82-78 win in double overtime on Tuesday.

If David Padgett is still around a couple of decades from now, fans will be referencing the game in January of 2018 when he ended the losing streak. A 32-year-old interim head coach, no head coaching experience, the youngest mentor in the NCAA’s toughest division.

Padgett doing something his mentor wasn’t able to do in six chances at South Bend. Another major booster shot for him and, indeed, for a team that keeps getting better, improving its record to 14-4 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Finding a way to win while being outrebounded 48-34 by Notre Dame and with Matt Ferrell and Martinas Geben scoring 23 points and 22 points, respectively. Achieving a rare feat, with his team making more free throws than the home team at South Bend — UofL sinking 15 of 17 at the free throw line while the Irish were making only 7 of 11.

Convincing his people that they could win, trusting them, them trusting him, listening, executing, refusing to wilt. Something really good happening here, people.

— Quentin Snider needing 21 points to make the 1,000-point club, doing it with a point to spare with his 22 for the night. The last two the game-clinching free throws with six seconds on the clock. Seven assists extraordinary.

— Ray Spalding making those scary hook shots look easy, especially at crunch time, with 23 points, 12 rebounds and two assists.

— Deng Adel giving up the basketball, working it around, letting other people score, winding up with 12 points and a couple of assists.

— Ryan McMahon three from downtown and 9 points.

— Anas Mahmoud with four of those marvelous blocks.

A win in South Bend at long last, Padgett making it happen.

Grissom pulls strings at UofL, but mum on aspirations

The Courier Journal’s Andrew Wolfson finally gets around to doing a profile of David Grissom, the Chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Interesting piece, clearly intended to cast Grissom as an S.O.B. in dealing with UofL’s financial challenges. Providing no clue,  however, about where he wants to take the school.

The timing of the article is curious, appearing in the printed edition on the same day as an op-ed report from the UofL Foundation indicating that all reviews and audits of the foundation were complete. Concluding that “there has never been a better time to invest in the University of Louisville.”

David Grissom assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees in January 2017 when the previous board was dissolved.

Took the C-J long enough, almost an entire year after Grissom assumed the role in January 2017. Not like he’s a newcomer to the community, involved in local business and civic activities over five decades. And the lengthy front page story does not include any direct quotes or recent attributions from the man himself.

The writer has to lean heavily on friends, associates and former business contacts for insights into Grissom personality and operating style. The subject of the article is apparently reluctant to answer calls or be interviewed. No real insights into his thinking and actions.

What would have been helpful would have been some indications about what Grissom wants to achieve. Not that his failure to communicate publicly is the CJ’s fault. Grissom rarely speaks publicly, usually dealing with business associates or fellow board members under controlled conditions.

Grissom, in fact, has never said anything about his aspirations for UofL, either during his public pronouncements at press conferences or during board meetings. Most of his comments deal with financial issues, which are his stock and trade.

Grissom is no newcomer to high education issues, having served for 22 years as Board Chairman at Centre College in Danville. Forbes Magazine recently ranked Centre as 89th among colleges and universities in the U.S., and the best of any Kentucky school.

David Grissom (right) having lunch with Centre College President John Roush at a Frankfort restaurant in December (Card Game photo).

Grissom’s reluctance to communicate a vision for UofL makes him vulnerable to people assigning him motivations, real or imagined. For example, he wanted to conduct the search for a new UofL President on a confidential basis in order to attract the best possible candidate. This made him a target of faculty groups concerned about his intentions, eventually resulting in a compromise that will allow faculty members to participate after signing disclosure agreements. Public forums will  allow other groups to have input.

A sizeable group of people who have invested heavily in UofL athletics over the years is concerned that Grissom wants to de-emphasize sports. Especially following the dismissal of Tom Jurich who made UofL athletics a premier brand during his 20 years as athletic director.

Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra with UofL football player Reggie Bonnafon on Senior Day (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The CJ story indicates that Grissom wants UofL to value academics as much as it does sports. We don’t know if the former athlete at Centre College has ever said that or if that was a reporter putting words in his mouth. A segment of UofL fans is scared, despite the hiring of long-time businessman and fan Vince Tyra as Interim Athletic Director– despite Tyra’s assurances that he wants to maintain UofL athletics as a premier program.

Jack Coffee, who owns the Louisville Rivals operation and published the Louisville Sports Report, says the “change in direction for UofL is an offense to those of us that have given millions to the university.” Coffee has written an Open Letter to Gov.Bevin calling for the Governor to ask Grissom to resign from the board. He also has started a petition drive at an online site, providing a way for other UofL fans to get involved.

This observer has to believe that the last thing the school needs at this point is Governor Bevin reasserting himself in UofL’s business. The school is now off accreditation probation, coming to grips with the financial issues, solidifying the UofL Foundation, and, at long last, beginning the process of conducting a national search for the next President. It has taken a while but a lot has been accomplished under the new board.

Many Louisville leaders believe David Grissom is best qualified to lead the University of Louisville into a new era, with the ability to identify people who can gain national respect for UofL in academic circles, as well as athletics. Grissom can help his cause by clearly and forcefully enunciating his goals for the school.

Right now there is still no clear direction or leadership, with second guessing and speculation filling the vacuum. Until Grissom fills in some of the blanks, or Interim President Greg Postel does it for him, the anxiety will continue, and the University’s future direction will be hindered by controversy and uncertainty.

Deng Adel back in full force as UofL kayos VA Tech

Deng Adel finds his shooting touch when UofL needs it most, connecting on four 3-pointers and 27 points against Virginia Tech (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Now that was the Deng Adel many fans of University of Louisville basketball remember from last season, the consensus player, the one letting the offense come to him, finding open teammates, taking care of the basketball.

Ryan McMahon’s enthusiasm is contagious, especially when he’s knocking shots in from downtown (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The one people feared would be leaving after only two seasons to pursue a professional basketball career, the one responsible for a collective sigh of relief when he chose to return to UofL for his junior year. The same player who disappeared in the first half against arch rival Kentucky this season, the one having problems with so many turnovers.

Deng Adel is apparently back, seemingly recharged and recommitted the past two games, transforming himself, becoming a serious offensive threat inside and outside. Becoming a serious contender on the boards on Saturday, pulling down 11 rebounds. Generously sharing the ball, getting credited with three assists — one, two, three of them.

Adel becoming more comfortable with or buying into Coach David Padgett’s system, embracing the team concept, benefitting himself and his fellow Cardinals. He would connect 10 of 15 field goal attempts, including four of six 3-pointers, to lead all scorers with 27 points.

"It was fun. The best part was just looking at the bench and seeing how hyped the guys were and then just playing together, making sure it's a balanced, team effort."

A new career high for Adel, embracing the leadership role, reaping the rewards in Louisville’s 94-86 win over Virginia Tech in front of a crowd of 16,798 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. Scoring seven consecutive during a critical second-half stretch and making two huge defensive stops.

“It was fun,” he said afterwards. “The best part was just looking at the bench and seeing how hyped the guys were and then just playing together, making sure it’s a balanced, team effort.”

Making his teammates better, Quentin Snider and V. J. King with 19 and 16 points, respectively. Ryan McMahon coming through with two long-distance 3-pointers and 10 points. Adel taking up the slack with Ray Spalding on the bench with foul problems, with Anas Mahmoud having one of those awkward outings.

The Cardinals will take a 13-4 won-lost record and 3-1 conference record to Notre Dame on Tuesday. They will also take a newly-inspired Deng Adel, and a much-improved outlook to a place where they haven’t won a game since 1994.