One glorious day for Louisville basketball fans

Myisha Hines-Allen kisses the Cardinal logo at midcourt after her final home game (top photo). And another wild and crazy NIT crowd showed for the Louisville men’s victory over Middle Tennesee (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Darius Perry and Quentin Snider celebrate during Louisville’s win over Middle Tennessee (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

A perfect day for University of Louisville basketball fans.

One of those magical days for UofL basketball, the KFC Yum! Center the center of the universe, the place to be on a Sunday in March.  Basketball all day long, thousands of fans emerging to celebrate, enjoying every last minute as the 2017-18 season nears an end.

The UofL women’s team dominating Marquette 90-72 before a crowd of 8,017 in the second round of the NCAA tournament in the afternoon. The men’s team  defeating a good Middle Tennessee State team 84-68 before 13,050 in the second round of the NIT later that night.

Ray Spalding gets some encouragement from UofL Coach David Padgett (Cindy Ride Shelton photo).

A day of winning for Cardinals’ fans, basking in the spotlight of national TV coverage, shedding the negativity, enjoying the positive, happy days are her again for UofL basketball. More of those resounding C-A-R-D-S cheers in one day than one an remember over the last three or four years.

That kind of day for the Louisville fans, wanting to show their Cardinals some love, wanting to catch up on the good times, and put some of the bad memories behind them if only for a day or so. A good day to be a Louisville fan.

Myisha Hines-Allen, a senior playing in her last game in Louisville, kissing the Cardinal logo on the floor after the game. That fabled turn-around jump shot of hers, rat-a-tat-tat, working to perfection, making 12 of 16 field goal attempts. 

“It was my last game here, and I wanted to go out with a win,” she said after the game. “I’m just so thankful to have made it this far, to have great teammates around me, to have wonderful fans come out to a game, know what they’re watching. They’re such great fans, and I consider everyone I’ve met over the last four years a part of my family.”

Jazmine Jones collects two of her 14 points against Marquette (Cindy Rice Sheton photo).

Louisville fans going to miss her eloquent post-game commentaries and  that shot she has perfected. Hines-Allen putting on a clinic, making it look so easy when it’s so hard for every shooter. Still another double-double, the 33rd of her career at UofL, with 24 points and 13 rebounds.

Asia Durr finding her outside shot again, making three of six 3-point attempts, finishing 19 points and six assists. Sam Fuehring breaking loose for 19 points as well. Jazmine Jones adding 14 points.

Asia Durr making three of her six 3-point attempts and 19 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The men, propelled by another one of those joyous NIT crowds, radiating new levels of energy and determination. Also shooting with new levels of efficiency, hitting 53 percent of their field goal attempts.

Ryan McMahon invigorating the Cardinals in the first half, burying four of six 3-point attempts from behind the experimental 22-foot line. Igniting his team, making the crowd erupt, giving UofL some rare breathing room in the first half. 

Jordan Nwora enjoying 21 minutes of playing time, also zeroing from the behind the 3-point line making four of eight attempts and 17 points for the night. Ray Spalding making good on eight of 11 shots, earning team scoring honors with 18 points.

Anas Mahmoud with the slam dunk of his career, surprising even himself, shocking the crowd, making fans do double-takes, even after watching the replay on the video board. Some disbelievers still shaking their heads as they headed for home after the nightcap.

Many familiar faces at both games, downtown businesses benefitting from two UofL games in the same day. One big great reunion of Cardinal fans, celebrating Cardinal basketball all day long. Devoted fans, not easily discouraged by events of the past, giddy to be back on the winning side.

Raucous NIT crowd pushes UofL past Northern Kentucky

Darius Perry delivers the exclamation point and posterizing dunk in the fourth quarter in top photo. Below, Deng Adel collects two of his game-leading  20 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Vince Tyra, the probable athletic director at the University of Louisville, had to have mixed feelings. Smallest crowd of the 2017-18 season but probably the best one.

The crowd of 9,974 was full of fanatical Louisville fans having a great night out (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The UofL partisans among the 9,974 fans so happy to be there for the National Invitation Tournament. Thriving on watching their Louisville basketball team. As one observer remarked, the home court would be a hell hole for opponents if every game had this atmosphere.

UofL was listless, awkward and struggling early, playing without any semblance of rhythm or purpose. Looking for a while like the Cardinals might be headed for still another low point, plunging into nothingness if they couldn’t get it going. So many airballs and blown plays, UofL falling behind 30-23 at the half.

But this raucous congregation of fans, consisting of many never seen in the lower levels of the KFC Yum! Center, were not going to let them quit. They were there to see their Cardinals, enjoying the big buck seats, and they would be a factor. Time after time they willed the Cardinals back in the game, helping shake off the sluggishness, willing them back into the game, pushing them over the top.

The crescendo coming with 40 seconds to go in the third quarter, on a towering, posterizing dunk by Darius Perry. The No. 1 dunk of the year coming in the NIT. The birthday boy from Powder Springs, Georgia, coming through with the icing on the cake. From that moment on it was just a matter of time, with Louisville a good Northern Kentucky team 66-58 to advance to the next round.

Vince Tyra had to be amazed at the exuberance of the all the non season-ticket holders filling those seats in the lower bowl. In the best of all UofL worlds, the best seats would be always be occupied by the most vocal fans. 

Not that anyone is complaining about the regulars who have been there through some trying times. But crowds like the one Tuesday night are a endearing reminder of the yesteryears when economics were not such a dominating factor in college basketball.

Coach David Padgett giving this crowd much of the credit, “They gave the energy we needed to win this game,” he said.

Nowhere to hide from bad losses for Louisville basketball

For all the talk about the University of Louisville basketball team not having any bad games, there sure have been a lot of downs for Coach David Padgett’s team. Posing a real threat to UofL’s chances of receiving an NCAA invitation.

The latest downer was a 75-58 loss to top-ranked Virginia in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Almost a week after the Cardinals had fumbled away a sure win in a 67-66 shocker against the Cavaliers at the KFC Yum! Center.

Louisville would be humbled again a couple of nights later in a 76-69 loss to North Carolina State that was not as close as the score indicated. A couple of weeks ago UofL lost to Duke and North Carolina by deficits of 26 and 17 points, respectively. And, of course, there was there was that inexplicable 29-point loss to Kentucky earlier in the season.

References to the turmoil off the court may amount to little more than excuses or rationalization

Yet there was Coach David Padgett being optimistic in the post-game press conference saying, “If you look at our overall body of work, we haven’t done anything wrong. I think that’s getting lost a lot in the shuffle this year is people used to put a lot of emphasis and a lot of weight on these, quote-unquote, bad losses.”

As much as one may like and respect Padgett, all of the above-mentioned losses could be construed as less than stellar to NCAA selection committee members. To add to the challenge, there have been no wins against ranked teams.

When the Cardinals did impress this season, it was always against lesser competition. Raising the hopes of their fans, only to have them dashed against better one. At times seeming to play without purpose or leadership, employing a confusing variety of lineups, some players disappearing for weeks at a time.

Rarely was there much evidence of the confidence and passion required for a team to meet or exceed expectations. Even with the off-the-court hurdles, UofL was still expected to be among the nation’s top five teams this season.

There were a few exhilarating moments, but they were few and far between. The passion exhibited by Louisville teams in the past was missing. If a switch was turned on in one game, the duration was all too brief, nowhere to found in the next. Little evidence of consistency from one half to the next, or from one game to another. 

All the references to the turmoil off the court amount to little more than excuses or rationalization. If anything the controversies could have brought the team closer together, you know, the us against the world mentality. One never sensed that to be the case, almost as if the players were in collective denial. One also has to wonder about the motivational approaches or lack thereof with so much drama to feed on during the season.

There were a few fun moments, including two wins over a good Virginia Tech team, and wins over Indiana and Memphis. Fitting the feel good category nicely but getting lost in the shuffle between all those disappointing losses. A season in which the optimism and patience of long-time UofL fans was severely tested. 

An NCAA invitation would be surprising, whether Padgett believes his team is deserving or not. A lot of shortcomings for the selection committee to overlook. Best for Louisville fans not to get those hopes up too high.

Louisville eases up again, but survives Florida State surge

One never knows what to expect with this particular University of Louisville basketball team. Nothing assured as long the game clock is running. The opposing team, not about to roll over, knowing there will always be a chance.

Give these UofL players a decent lead, they will let up, get ahead of themselves, look ahead to the next round.  The Cardinals racing to a 23-point lead with eleven and a half minutes in the second half. Florida State not rolling over, aware of Louisville’s recent history, using the adversity as motivation.

The Seminoles would start making every shot, good, bad or indifferent, cutting the deficit to six points in the final minute. But the Cardinals would make five of their last six shots, Quentin Snider would hit both free throw attempts with 15 seconds to go. Louisville would hang on for a 82-74 win in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.

Snider, playing like time is running out on his collegiate career, playing with authority, trusting his 3-point shot, leading the way. Leading his team with 19 points, including three of seven behind the 3-point line, five rebounds and six assists. Deserving, perhaps earning a chance to play NCAA tournament ball his senior season.

Ray Spalding, missing eight minutes with two fouls in the first half, providing a steady presence beneath the basket. Playing with confidence, wanting the ball, making those little hooks look smoother and easier of late.  One wonders what if he had another season to work on them. 

Deng Adel playing a supporting role  in this game. Laying off the dizzy-whiz stuff, passing the ball, getting eight rebounds and two assists, taking what the defense gives him, winding up with 15 points.

Anas Mahmoud still missing those sure-thing, two-foot shots but blocking five Florida State shots, making six rebounds, three assists and a steal. Not bad but one still has to wonder what he would be doing had added some weight to his frame. 

Dwayne Sutton, making his case for more playing time when it counts, contributing 10 points and, notably, six rebounds and three blocks in 21 minutes.

Hang on. Another Louisville-Virginia game this way comes.

Time is now, Louisville women cut ACC tournament threads

A time to celebrate for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team with the program’s first ACC tournament championship (UofL Women’s Basketball photos).
Sam Fuehring and Myisha Hines-Allen go just a little bit crazy celebrating UofL’s first ACC tournament championshp.

No shoulda, woulda, coulda’s for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. No looking past anyone, no waiting until next year, and no getting blinded by the spotlight.

Your UofL women are the winners of the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference championship, the best all season long. Defeating Notre Dame 74-72 on Sunday in the tournament finale, claiming the Cardinals’ first ACC tournament championship and their first conference tournament title since 1993.

Defeating the Irish for the second time this season. Denying Notre Dame a fifth consecutive tournament championship and handing the Irish first loss  ever in ACC tournament play. In the process, the Cardinals earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and a most desirable spot in the Lexington Regional.

A milestone win for a group of players Coach Jeff Walz has often described as a wonderful group of young women, people who enjoy working and playing together, and pulling for each other to succeed. They have carved a unique niche in program history, positioning themselves for something even more special.

Arica Carter solidified herself as a major 3-point threat in the ACC tournament, with eight of them in three games (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Notre Dame wanted this one, wanted it bad, wanted redemption for a 33-point loss in Louisville in January. The Irish, who have dominated the ACC the past four seasons, weren’t going to wilt in this one, holding a 42-37 lead at the 8:30 mark in the third quarter.

That seemed to be all the incentive the Cardinals needed to get down to business. Asia Durr would hit her second 3-pointer, Myisha Hines-Allen would get a layup, Arica Carter  her third 3-pointer, Hines-Allen another layup, Jazmine Jones a layup, followed by a layup by Sam Fuehring, propelling Louisville to a seven-point lead at one point.

Five players scoring in double figures for UofL — Durr with 17, Carter 16, Hines-Allen and Fuehring with 15, and Jones with 11 — and with a total of 22 assists, personifying an all-out team effort. Players stepping up at all corners of the court.

With Durr struggling for much of the tournament, her teammates had to come through and they did.  The ACC player of the year went six of 27 — and one for 12 from 3-point range — in her first two tournament games. But it would be Durr who would hit all four of her free throws in the final seconds assure the win in the final game.

Jeff Walz reaffirms with ACC tournament title that he’s in this thing to win championships.

Hines-Allen, with combined totals of 48 points and 26 rebounds in three games, was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. She was joined by Fuehring on the all-tournament first team, and Carter and Jones on the second team.

Walz, the ACC Coach of the Year, ecstatic but not fully content with the latest conquest, apparently eyeing an even bigger prize in the days and weeks ahead.  “I hope it puts a smile on everybody’s face,” he said. “It’s been a remarkable run, but we aren’t finished. … We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Much bigger.