Letdown coming at worst time for Louisville basketball

By Ed Peak

Maybe it was the small crowd that showed up. More people show up for high school games than were at Conte Forum. Maybe it was the food in the pregame meal. Maybe it was the weather in Bean Town. Doesn’t matter, the University of Louisville basketball team was flat. Little emotion. No fire. Just weak.

Chris Mack was frustrated. His assistants were perplexed. University of Louisville fans on the post game radio shows asking what everybody is asking, what has happened to this team?

UofL looked like it was just going through the motions in a listless first half. Then the Cardinals rallied to take a lead deep into the second half, only to watch Boston College come back. The last five minutes were an implosion, with Cardinals going down to a 66-59 defeat.

Boston College is a bad team playing out the string just trying to get to the end of the season.  Look at all the missed shots, the defensive lapses. Louisville didn’t take advantage. The Eagles were without one of their top players in freshman Wynston Tabbs who averages 13.9 points. The Eagles are 4-9 without him.

Card Nation is slowly coming to accept the fact that this team is toast. This is not the same team that beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, led Duke by 23 in the second half and played its next opponent as if it’s life depended on it. Where has that spark, the toughness, the swag gone?

UofL fans was lulled into a false sense of confidence by all the early success. Call it Duke hangover, call it what you want. Louisville has done enough to make the NCAA tournament. But losses in the next two games and an early exit from the ACC tourney and Louisville is quite possibly a bubble team — or an eight or nine seed at best.

“Sickening to watch,” said Mack to the Associated Press following the game. “I mean we’re just not making winning plays. Not making winning plays on either end of the floor. I’m sitting there thinking like we have everything to play for. And you wouldn’t be able to tell that in the last five minutes of the game.”

Rock bottom is where UofL lives right now. Notre Dame (13-15) comes to the Yum Center on Sunday afternoon. Irish coach Mike Bray will have his team ready. Can Chris Mack recharge this Louisville team? The odds aren’t very good.

Louisville basketball needs to provide proof of life

By Ed Peak

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.

After getting off to an impressive start, Chris Mack’s team badly needs to get back in the win column (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

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?

Continue reading “Louisville basketball needs to provide proof of life”

Blowing leads not encouraging for Louisville as season enters stretch

Ryan McMahon down the middle again but he rarely scores around the basket (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

By Ed Peak

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.
 

Louisville baseball resumes title chase

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. 

Louisville teammates Tyler Fitzgerald and Logan Wyatt discussed prospects for the 2019 season (Photos by Ed Peak).

“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.”

No doubt about that.

22,046 witness Louisville implosion against Duke

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was in near panic mode before Louisville got slippery fingers and collapsed, giving up a 23-point lead (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

By Ed Peak

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.

Chris Mack had his team prepared for Duke but his players couldn’t sustain the effort indefinitely (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“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.”