Ed Peak has covered UofL sports since 1973, as a student reporter, as a correspondent for the Courier-Journal, a freelancer for the Associated Press and United Press International, as well as ScoreCard, Fox Sports and CBS radio.
Where have they gone, those guys who were on fire a month ago?
If this University of Louisville basketball team wants a decent seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, it’s time to get back on track. Now. Not next week, not the ACC Tournament. Now.
Louisville has lost four of its last six games. Any edge the Cardinals had from playing a favorable early conference schedule is gone. Missing is that toughness, grit and determination that helped this team beat Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.
Card Nation keeps waiting for something positive. After the 23-point melt down against Duke came the teeth gnashing win over Clemson. Against Syracuse, Louisville didn’t look anything like the team that shot its way to a big lead against the Blue Devils. Or even the one that had Florida State on the ropes for nearly 40 minutes before losing in overtime.
Now we need to see if Chris Mack can turn this team around. That old nemesis known as the No. 3 ranked Virginia Cavaliers comes to town Saturday. Coach Tony Bennett’s team has only two losses, both to Duke. Virginia puts fans to sleep, but is a consistent winner. They are not invincible, however. Remember that No.1 seed losing to 16th-seeded Baltimore Maryland-County in the NCAA Tournament last season?
This thing with the University of Louisville basketball team giving away leads late in the game is taking a mental and physical toll on everyone, the coaches, players, and the fans. At the worst possible time, with March rapidly approaching.
The Cardinals almost folding again over the weekend. The turnover problem rearing its ugly self when it matters most, at crunch time when teams are pressing, locked in defensively. UofL loses focus and confidence, seemingly hoping to be rescued by the clock.
When Louisville inbounds the ball, it’s usually from the corner, and Christen Cunningham winds up getting trapped. He is only 6-foot-2 has trouble seeing over bigger players waving their arms. For starters, they may want to get it to the middle for better spacing.
One can’t blame Cunningham for all the drama, however. Had it not been for his layups and the big 3-pointer on Saturday, the Cards would be saddled with a three-game losing streak.
Teams are forced to pay close attention to Jordan Nwora. The sophomore averages over 17 points and close to eight rebounds. He’s arguably the team’s best player but his ball handling is random at best. He leads the team in turnovers with 63, including six of them against Clemson.
Dwayne Sutton’s game seems to have fallen off a bit, scoring four points in Saturday’s win. He has played solid defense but his ball handling against the press also leaves much to be desired.
Ryan McMahon is dead on behind the 3-point line when he gets the ball on the fly, but that becomes a tough proposition in the closing minutes.
Inside players Malik Williams and Steven Enoch have been up and down as well. They both come up short offensively and defensively against opponents their size or larger.
This group of players has shown signs of potential greatness at times, beating quality opponents like Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and building a 23-point lead over top-ranked Duke in the second half. But the recent downturn in their fortunes may be taking a major toll on their collective psyche at a time when they need to be getting better.
The season only gets tougher from this point. Not the time to be going backwards.
Editor’s Note: The college baseball season has arrived, believe it or or not, with the University of Louisville opening against UConn in the first of a three-game series at Lakeland, Fla. The series begins on Friday evening at 6 p.m. with game two set for Saturday at 3 p.m. and the finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.
By Ed Peak
Logan Wyatt couldn’t help but bring up the painful past during the University of Louisville baseball media day recently. Specifically, his team’s loss in the Texas Tech Regional. One game away from another College World Series, the Cardinals were unceremoniously dumped 11-6 by the home-standing Red Raiders in a game that was never really that close.
“The ending of our season as we all know was kind of rough,” said Wyatt, one of several returning starters from the team that finished 45-19. “Following the fall season and scrimmages right now everybody’s intensity and focus seems to be heightened right now (because of last year).”
Infielder Tyler Fitzgerald echoed Wyatt’s feelings. “It’s with us a lot,” said Fitzgerald. “We talk about it every week. It was no secret we were a young team last year. We’ve got guys that will step up.
“One of our goals is we host a Regional and a Super Regional. I think that will make it a little easier on us. That was not the ending we wanted last year. It has definitely helped prepare us for the upcoming year. We know what to expect now,” said Fitzgerald.
All three games against UConn this weekend are scheduled for coverage on 93.9 The Ville.
Louisville returns a bulk of that team from last year, according to coach Dan McDonnell, and added a freshman class that could help this team get to Omaha and the College World Series for the fifth time in program history.
“When I try to put the measurables in place, what am I looking for it starts with our commitment to academics in the class room. We’re coming off a good summer. We’ve obviously got a lot of talented players returning.”
The Cardinals were ranked ninth by Street & Smith’s preseason publication. Oregon State the defending champions were ranked No 1 followed by Louisiana State, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Auburn, North Carolina, Stanford, Arkansas and Florida.
“We’ve got a bunch of leaders this year that can step up and if we keep the leaders going in the right direction we’ll be all right,” said Wyatt a junior from North Bulllitt High.
Wyatt has received some preseason accolades after batting .339 and leading the team with 69 runs batted in. His six home runs were second on the team. Danny Oriente, Drew Campbell and Jake Snider also hit 300 or higher last season. The pitching staff includes some familiar names, including Reid Detmers, Austin Conway, Bobby Miller and Shay Smitty.
The Cardinals are ranked in most preseason polls somewhere in the top 10. Last week Atlantic Coast Conference coaches voted UofL as the top team in the conference edging perennial power Florida State.
“I think there’s power in saying we’re going to win a national championship,” said McDonnell. “So today’s the day to do that. Today’s the day to let the world know that’s the goal of our program. That’s what we believe in. That’s what we see happening. That’s why we work our players so hard.”
As one coach said a couple of years ago, “Louisville is the new elite program in the Midwest.”
Things aren’t always as good as when everything seems to be going well. When things going bad, they are not as bad as it seems.
Louisville leads No. 2 Duke by 23 points with 9:54 to play. The Cardinal fans in the crowd of 22,046 are delirious. Then all of the sudden the bottom falls out. The roof caves in on Louisville. Duke erupts for a 71-69 win, leaving the Cardinal faithful in dismay.
“I’m stunned,” said Louisville coach Chris Mack. The Cardinals under a barrage of turnovers were outscored 35-10 the rest of the way. The Cardinals had only three field goals the rest of the way. They had only four turnovers at halftime but finished 17.
It was the second straight game Louisville lost a late lead. Saturday, Florida State edged the Cards 80-75 in overtime after leading by seven with around four minutes to play.
“As tough as it was on Saturday to swallow…..(tonight) tougher,” said Mack. “I’m really proud of my team. They competed their tails off. We played as hard as we’ve played all year.”
Louisville (17-8, 8-4) started playing a big conservatively in the last eight minutes. They were playing not to lose. They quite attacking. When Duke (22-2, 10-1) turned up the defensive pressure the Cardinals didn’t respond.
“We could sense that they got hesitant,”said Cam Reddish who scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half. “We just feed off of that. Just kept grinding, grinding through every possession.”
Duke was ready for a loss. Last Saturday the Blue Devils beat No.3 Virginia, 81-71. So it figured you might get Duke at a good time.
Freshman Zion Williamson led Duke with 27 points and 12 rebounds, but played the second half in series foul trouble. He picked up his fourth with 12:14. He returned with 9:41.
“Give Duke credit, they turned us over it seems like 1,000 times in the last four or five minutes,” said Mack. Duke had 15 points off turnovers and 11 steals in the second half. Williamson had three steals.
“I thought we outplayed the best team in the country for a long time,” said Mack. “As hard as it is to accept, we’re going to grow from it and there will be better times.”
Jordan Nwora led the Cards with 23 points and 12 rebounds. He played probably his best game of the season. Dwayne Sutton added 15 points and six rebounds. Steve Enoch came off the bench for 14 points and thee rebounds.
The Cardinals got a good performance from guard Darius Perry who had six points, but did turn the ball over three times.
Graduate transfer Christen Cunningham didn’t score but had 12 assists but did turn the ball over six times. He had difficulties seeing over the bigger Duke guards.
Did the full court press Duke employed at the 9:54 juncture do UofL in?
“That’s a great question,” said Mack. “I think that our spacing was good, we were just tentative. Every pass was like they wanted it to get to their teammate and that tentativeness becomes a negative when you have such a great anticipating teams.
“My belief in these guys is crazy strong and that’s not going away after a really tough loss. They have to grow from it and get better.”
Maybe this is a good week for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team to take a break. A respite from all the travel and rigors of the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.
Jeff Walz has had a great time this season, often joking, clowning and high-fiving his players as they have wound their way to a 23-1 won-lost mark. But he was not smiling Sunday when Virginia Tech cut a 20-point lead to five points with less than a minute to go.
That look of confidence replaced by one of genuine concern on that stubble-framed countenance. He knew they were in trouble. The second ranked Cardinals letting a 20-point lead dwindle to almost nothing to a team hitting everything it threw at the basket in the fourth quarter.
Walz avoiding using up precious timeouts during those final minutes, wanting his players to get themselves out of troubling situations. “I wanted them to figure it out themselves,” he said. Durr taking the cue, digging deep, taking the team on her shoulders again.
Durr has been banged up a bit lately, actually sitting out a game two Sundays ago. But Asia would answer the call time and time again in a scary 72-63 win at Virginia Tech. With more than a little help from Sam Fuehring, banking layup after layup during the late going.
Durr would wind up with 34 points for the game, the fourth 30-point-plus outing for her career. The go-to player in the clutch, making five of seven 3-point attempts and all seven of her seven free throw shots, the final two icing the win with 13 seconds to go. Fuehring would collect her fourth double-double of the season with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The close call for the Cardinals a reminder that the ACC remains one of the women’s college basketball’s toughest conferences. The week ahead a time to heal, get back to the basics, and prepare for the stretch drive. No time to take anyone or anything for granted.
Next game Sunday at 3 p.m. against Miami, a team fresh from upsetting Notre Dame, one game behind the Cardinals in the ACC standings, a team not be taken lightly.