Louisville seems content to hang around against Kentucky

A game Dwayne Sutton wants to forget, Louisville’s third leading scorer managing only two points for the day (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

May be a while before University of Louisville basketball plays another Kentucky team so lacking in talent as was so evident on Saturday. But that’s irrelevant because UofL never posed a serious threat to the Wildcats.

Chris Mack gave his team a chance against Kentucky but was outmanned in his first game in the rivalry (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Choose a reason — lack of focus, no consistency, little confidence, an absence of leadership, no visible will to win — any of these qualities were in evidence in a 71-58 loss to Kentucky. No perceived benefit either from the boisterous UofL diehards in the crowd of 20,882 at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.

A UofL team able to connect on only  five of 20 three-point field goal attempts. Not much better on close-up attempts, unable to finish, blowing uncontested shots at times. Seemingly content to just hang around, spotting UK 10-point-plus leads,  lacking the ability to hit two or three shots in a row.

The crowd of 20,882 was the largest at the KFC Yum! Center this season.

Credit Coach Chris Mack for keeping his team as close as it was, avoiding a second straight blowout to Kentucky. The offensive schemes were good, the 1-3-1 zone offense could have been effective. But not without booster shots of mental toughness and consistent focus.

If there was a bright spot, it was the play of Christen Cunningham, who almost singlehandedly kept UofL within striking distance in the first half. The 6-foot-2 graduate transfer from Samford University had three of Louisville’s five 3-point shots and a team-leading 20 points.

Jordan Nwora, the team’s leading scorer, accumulated 17 points but teammates Dwayne Sutton and Darius Perry managed only seven points between them. Sutton never took a shot during the first 20 minutes. Ryan McMahon couldn’t possibly get open, winding with two free throws.

Not a blowout at least, but not all that encouraging. Not with UofL hosting Miami next Sunday in the first game of a grueling ACC schedule. 

An early wakeup call, a reminder for Louisville fans to keep expectations in check for the rest of the season. Chris Mack’s work has only just begun.

Slideshow courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton.

Louisville vs. Kentucky, 2 p.m., ESPN2

The good guys, those representing the University of Louisville, deserve to win this rivalry game. 

UofL has been through some challenging times. But one thing UK fans should never doubt is that Louisville is never going to go away. Emerging stronger than ever from the chaos, much to the disappointment and chagrin of some Wildcat followers.

If the ongoing battles have taught Louisville people anything, it may well be that there are more important concerns for the University’s supporters than the athletic rivalry. Louisville has got to aim much higher in all areas of academia and athletics.

Much more significant aspirations and relevant goals to achieve, improving the outlook for the community and mankind. UofL’s best days are very much ahead of her.

Bigger the game the better for Asia Durr

Asia Durr is currently averaging 21.7 points per game for 11-0 Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So much fun watching Asia Durr for fans of University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Making it look so easy as she gets her shots off against double-teams, triple-teams, full-court presses, box-and-ones. Asia has seen them all, the bigger the opponent the better, the more she excels.

Case in point, her heroics in UofL’s recent win over Kentucky in a battle of the unbeaten. She would secure her team’s first seven points, with Wildcat defenders literally hanging on her, en route to a 32-point performance. Her best game thus far may have been that 36-point outpoint in a 100-67 drubbing of eventual national champion Notre Dame last season.

Asia Durr thrives best on the big stage, the bigger the opponent the better (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“I’ve really embraced being the go-to player,” said Durr, who is averaging 21.7 points through 11 games this season. “I want to be the player where, when the game is on the line, coach draws up the play for me.

“But whatever Coach needs me to do, I’ll do it. Anything. He’s asked me to do different things, like help lead the freshmen, help make them better, and that’s been a good challenge.”

Asia will likely be a lottery pick during the WNBA draft at the end of the season but she wants to stay focused on the present, enjoying every minute of her time at Louisville, and hopefully a second consecutive Final Four appearance.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” Durr told ESPN. “This is my last year, so I want to leave a mark here with how people will think of me — not just with basketball but with the type of person I am. I like spending time with our fans and the kids who look up to me. With that and school and basketball, it keeps me pretty busy.”

Louisville basketball looking to close out year on high notes

Jordan Nwora dunking again and again, scoring 22 points in 82-78 win over Lipscomb on Wednesday (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

As expected, some early ups and downs for the University of Louisville basketball team during the first season under Coach Chris Mack. Some good wins, some unexpected challenges in compiling a 7-3 won-lost record. UofL will get better with four straight games at home, but tournament expectations remain guarded.
 
The Cardinals opened the season at plus-10,000 to end up as national champions in 2019 at online betting sites like BetOnline. Since then, they have moved up the ranks at a few spots to as low as plus-7,000.
 
Louisville isn’t currently in the top 25 in either the Associated Press poll or the Coaches Poll, but TeamRankings predictive power ratings has the Cards at No. 26. They’ve had a pretty tough schedule over the last few games, with wins over Michigan State and Seton Hall and tough losses against Marquette and Indiana.
 
The Cardinals have the No. 38 offense in college basketball, putting up over 89 points per game. The defense isn’t bad at 69.62 allowed on average, but if they want to climb into the top 20 they are going to have to tighten up on the defensive side. Ranking 117th in total defense isn’t going to cut it.
UK rivalry game looms

Now Louisville moves into a four-game home stretch, getting Kent State, Robert Morris, Kentucky, and then Miami (Fla).  Kent State is rated as the No. 143 team but over the last nine games has trended down to look more like No. 150. Robert Morris is first in the Northeast at 4-6 and is essentially a tune-up game.  
 
The team will get a full week off for Christmas before facing a tough, 20th ranked Kentucky Wildcats. This game could go either way.

Points per game – UK 84.2 vs. UofL81.7
Allowed per game- UK 71.3 vs. UofL 69.4
Average margin – UK +12.9 vs. UofL +12.2
Away vs Home Rating – UK #10 vs. UofL #10
Opponent FG % – UK 50.2 vs. UofL 47.6
 
The Miami Hurricanes have to face NC State two days before they come to Louisville, so the Cardinals have the advantage of another long rest period between their games with Kentucky and the Canes. The Cardinals will win at least four out of five as we head into the new year.
 

Chris Mack breathing life back into Louisville basketball

Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Turn that corner. 

Biggest win of Coach Chris Mack’s tenure at the University of Louisville, his team emerging from a bruising slugfest with Michigan State. Too soon to declare that UofL is back from the wilderness, but never too early to celebrate a signature victory.

One of those cliche wins for a young team, one of those games this first year coach’s team wasn’t expected to survive. A night when Louisville could have folded often in regulation or overtime, but hanging on for a an 82-78 win over the nation’s ninth-ranked team.

A special night, a special win for the Cardinals in front of a screaming crowd of 15,477 rabid partisans at the KFC Yum! Center. Everyone knowing this one was special, possibly the lynchpin for a return to the good times for Louisville basketball.

All of UofL’s last seven points coming at the free throw line, four of them from Ryan McMahon, two from Chris Cunningham, and the final one from Jordan Nwora, with the final free throw, giving the Cardinals’ their final margin.

Ryan McMahon with a career high 24 points, including four free throws in overtime. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

McMahon admitting after the game he was dreading Murphy’s Law, fearing that if something bad could happen, it was going to happen. “The difference may have been the little things, the kind of things we sometimes take for granted,” he said afterwards.

McMahon mentioned Dwayne Sutton as a difference maker, saying Sutton was telling his teammates on the sideline not to let up, not to let a win slip out of their grasp. “He told us we can’t let this happen again,” he said.

McMahon among numerous players having the game of their careers. The junior guard leading all scorers with 24 points, including four of eight field goal attempts, all of them 3-pointers, and 12 or 13 free throw attempts.Jordan Nwora with 14 points, including two 3-pointers, six of nine free throw attempts. Dwayne Sutton and Chris Cunningham with 13 points each.

Responding to Chris Mack’s with that hand over his heart, the Cardinals wanting this one badly. Needing this win, overcoming any of their own doubts, doing what it takes, not being denied, making it happen.

Breathing life back into Louisville basketball, a dose of adrenalin into the UofL faithful. A major corner indeed.