Not possible, no way, no how, but Louisville throttles North Carolina

Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Never. Be real.

The last thing anyone expected, especially among longtime diehard University of Louisville basketball fans. Go ahead and pencil in another L, no way to avoid getting mopped off the floor at Chapel Hill. A certain North Carolina runaway.

No rush switching on the TV, no hurry to see a blowout, tuning in less than a minute to tipoff. Afraid to watch, knowing no lead is safe, expecting the worst. No chance in hell. Bring it on, getting used to the bad news.

Except that the worst wasn’t to be. Not this day.

Two hours after comparing this group to a friend at Kroger with a bunch of YMCA basketball junkies, telling him not to get his hopes up. This Louisville team had wrapped up an 83-62 win over North Carolina before 21,000-plus fans on their home court, the 21-point loss the largest ever for UNC under Coach Roy Williams.

Two hours after comparing this group to a friend at Kroger with a bunch of YMCA basketball junkies, telling him not to get his hopes up.

Exactly what UofL fans needed, those expecting a long, long season, losing faith, having resigned themselves to the worst. A win at the least expected moment, over one of college basketball’s blue bloods, a giant booster shot three games into the heart of the ACC schedule.

Think maybe Coach Chris Mack’s message about keeping players in front of them and out of the lane finally reached its audience? One kept expecting that perpetual flurry of UNC fast break layups, alley oops and back door slams. But they never came. Rarely has a North Carolina team thrown up so many bricks.

Jordan Nwora bringing his game face, with a different look, ready to rumble, no hint of ambivalence. Steven Enoch tired of riding the bench, bringing a different game, one that some had given up ever seeing, probably  his best ever. Dwayne Sutton again bringing that warrior mentality, fearless and aggressive.

The three of them sharing team-high scoring honors with 17 points apiece. Sutton with an amazing seven assists, Christen Cunningham with five assists. Only five turnovers during the game, compared to 14 for North Carolina. Out-rebounding the Tar Heels, 40-31. An unlikely 11 rebounds from Enoch, 10 rebounds for Sutton — first time double-doubles for each.

The most impressive performance by a Louisville basketball team in quite a while, coming on the heels of an ugly loss to Pittsburgh. The players maybe ready to listen. Mack with the same old message, keep the ball in front of you, keep them out of the lane. “When you do that, they will have a tough time scoring against you,” said Mack.

Keep that in mind, guys, and there could well be many more good times ahead this season.

Jeff Walz maintains cool during officiating clown show

A great basketball game between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in women’s college basketball marred by a clown show of officiating.

Jeff Walz

Here’s to Jeff Walz for maintaining his demeanor during the loss to Notre Dame, the outcome for the game heavily influenced by numerous controversial officiating calls. There have been occasions in the recent past when he would have let the officials have it with both barrels.

Notre Dame would get 39 shots at the free throw line while UofL was limited to only 16. The home crowd at South Bend had to be pleased.

The University of Louisville women’s basketball team in foul trouble early, Jasmine Jones collecting two fouls less than two minutes into the game.  Arica Carter and Dana Evans would have three fouls at the half. Asia Durr, Sam Fuehring and Kylee Shook would also have two apiece.  UofL with 15 fouls, Notre Dame with six in the first 20 minutes.

The disparity was even more apparent during the late stages of the game. The Irish’s Arike Ogunbowale plowing over Carter at one point, then twice aiming her tennis shoes at Carter’s head during the pileup. A personal foul called on Carter, but no technical for Ogunbowale who badly deserved one.

The worst was the technical called on UofL’s Bionca Dunham in the fourth quarter, when Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner flopped to the floor. Officials hovering several minutes over a video that clearly show Dunham had not made any contact.

A sad commentary on the status on women’s college basketball when officiating is so blatantly inadequate, having a direct effect on the outcomes of many games. Even at the highest levels, in the Final Four and Championship games. Mindful of the old days of the World Wrestling Federation with the blatant fakery dominating a so-called sport.

Yahoo Commentator Pat Forde tweeting at one point, “I don’t watch a ton of women’s games, but the officiating is consistently cringe-worthy. No matter who is playing.”

Louisville women’s basketball deserves better. Women’s basketball deserves better.

Restoring Louisville basketball not expected to be easy for Chris Mack

Lots of ups and downs for Louisville basketball during the first season under Coach Chris Mack (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The challenges confronting Chris Mack faces in returning University of Louisville to the elite ranks of college basketball were never more obvious than in the 89-86 loss to Pittsburgh. Those easy wins UofL fans were expecting in January are suddenly doubtful and elusive.

If 2018-19 was supposed to be a rebuilding season under the new Louisville coach, he is still frantically searching for the building blocks for the foundation. Though they never quit in Wednesday’s game, the Cardinals never really got started. Strongly resembling last year’s team,  struggling against an Atlantic Coast Conference bottom feeder.

Certainly not a good night for Jordan Nwora, the team’s leading scorer.  He appeared to be least likely player getting the ball with the game on the line. A poor shooting night, making only two of 14 field goal attempts, while making four turnovers. Many of his shots didn’t have a chance, some of them seemingly thrown at random.

Point guard Christen Cunningham again forced to provide the offensive leadership, recognizing what needed to be done. Fearless in going to the basket, taking the sensible shots, finding open teammates. He would score a team-high 23 points and make five assists, all without committing a single foul.

Cunningham actually contributing what his team needed most, a sense of urgency. Playing within the system, on a night when some of his teammates appeared unsure of their roles and how they fit within the system. Whether they can get it, recommit and get their collective act together, or if they are capable of getting better, remains to be seen.

If they are not paying attention to their new coach, if they unable to grasp what he wants them to do, or if there is just not enough talent to overcome these disparities, this season could easily become a placeholder until Chris Mack’s first recruiting class takes over next year.

Jock Sutherland recalls fun times with Louisville basketball

Photo courtesy Room 17 Productions

Jock Sutherland hasn’t seen a University of Louisville basketball game in person since 2001. That’s a long time for a man who was immersed in the sport for most of his 90 years. But he’s still very much a UofL basketball fan, describing his time with the program as “one of my bonuses in life.”

Since he can’t play golf or travel for basketball games, he relies heavily on his big screen TV to follow the sports he loves. “Being 90 isn’t easy, you have to learn things all over again,” he said. “I see as many Louisville games as I can although it is sometimes a challenge finding UofL games in Central Kentucky.”

Jock Sutherland during his days at Lafayette High School in Lexington where he won a state basketball championship in 1979.

Sutherland was a member of the UofL basketball radio broadcast team from 1981 to 2001. He raised the concept of color commentator to another level, entertaining fans with a zany sense of humor, unrelenting candor and folksy stories. A former member of the University of Kentucky coaching staff, he was often critical of UK on the broadcasts.

The Observer caught up with Jock by telephone on Monday at his Nicholasville home that he shares with his wife Phyllis, adjacent to the Lone Oak Golf Course. He played golf regularly until about five years ago, often participating in UofL golf scrambles,  before being sidelined with arthritis in both knees.

Jock Sutherland with his son Charles, Jr., at the annual Press Box Golf Scramble at the UofL Golf Club in 2014 (Charlie Springer photo).

Sutherland, who coached Lafayette to the state high school championship in 1979, got his start in media a year later as an analyst with Dave Conrad at UofL games on WHAS TV. “We didn’t have replays in those days, and it was tough explaining the technical stuff,” he recalls.

When Conrad left for another job, Van Vance asked Jock to join the Louisville broadcast team.  “I had the worst voice in the world and I didn’t know anything about radio,” he said. “I was so bad we made a pretty good team. He just wanted me to talk so I talked. It was wonderful. I had a great time and got to know a lot of Louisville people. I wouldn’t take anything for that experience.”

Van Vance hired Jock Sutherland in 1981 to do color commentary for UofL basketball (WHAS Radio photo).

Sutherland and Vance have stayed in contact over the years, getting together at the Cracker Barrel in Lawrenceburg to rehash memories. “Van was a great guy to work with and quite a character,” he said. “He was the ultimate bachelor, with some quirky habits. He would eat supper at weird hours, nothing for him to go to Kroger at 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Jock, who retired from broadcasting the same year when Coach Denny Crum left the program, was obviously disappointed with some of the off-the-court activities affecting Louisville basketball in recent years. “The dorm activity never would have happened with Denny,” he said. “There was no way, we had too many people on campus. We had a coach there (in the dorm) every night.  I don’t think Rick Pitino had any idea what was going on.

“That one assistant caused all the problems, and it has cost him dearly. It has cost UofL dearly, too. It’s a shame but the school, the program will recover and come back better than ever.”

Sutherland isn’t fond of some of the changes in basketball over the last few decades. “I have never liked the three-point shot or all the dunking in today’s game,” he said. “I especially don’t like the one-and-done stuff at UK. Fans don’t get to know the players and the players aren’t learning much about the game.”

He says there will never be another Denny Crum and the place will never be the same as when Crum was there. “Denny was a special person. I never heard Denny say a curse word in 20 years. I never saw him embarrass a player in 20 years. Denny never said a word if I was critical during a game.”

He is optimistic about the future of UofL basketball, predicting great things under Chris Mack’s leadership. “They’re coming back, they’ll definitely be back,” he said. “We’ve got a guy here now who has a good reputation and he’s a great recruiter. I guarantee you that in about three years, UofL will back to where it was, competing at the highest levels.”

Sutherland was constantly choking up during the interview, obviously still proud to have worked with the Louisville basketball program, still wondering at times how it was possible.

“I had the worst voice in the world but I did know my subject.  When they bury me, I will take some wonderful memories with me.”

*    *    *

Jock was recently interviewed by film producers Renee Collins and Warren Cobb for Room 17 Productions as part of a documentary about one his former players, Greg Austin. A phenomenal athlete in basketball, football and track, Austin played for Jock’s 1967 team and earned fame as a country music singer. In the interview Jock also reveals how he earned the nickname. 

The Greg Austin Story: Charles “Jock” Sutherland from Renee Collins on Vimeo.

Arica Carter there when Louisville women need her most

Coach Jeff Walz wanting to get closer to the action as North Carolina mounts a comeback against UofL in the opening game of the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the schedule.

Arica Carter was not in the starting lineup at tipoff for the opening tip against North Carolina. But she would be there when the University of Louisville most needed her, barely clinging to a lead with the clock winding down.

Asia Durr receives a basketball before the game commemorating her 2,000th point, making her the third leading scorer in the program’s history.

North Carolina had reduced a 19-point lead to two points at with five minutes to go — talented and inspired, hoping to knock UofL from the ranks of the unbeaten. Conference opener a preview of things to come for the Cardinals.

But that was when Carter went to work, scoring five straight points and eight of UofL’s final 14 points. Destined to make a difference, filling the void on a off night for Asia Durr. No tolerance for any upset, she would secure the 73-66 win in front of a crowd of 8,506 at the KFC Yum! Center.

Making an equally strong impression was junior Jazmine Jones with one of the best games of her career, with 17 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Kylee Shook, Dana Evans and Durr would add 10 points apiece.

North Carolina, with a 9-7 record, providing evidence that the ACC may be much stronger from top to bottom this season. Louisville with a 13-0 record now, but the road ahead is littered with opponents who will be highly motivated. Nobody said it was going to be easy.