Proof of life, Louisville shows heart in win over Florida State

Discouraging, demoralizing, terrible start. Proof of life needed.

Florida State jumping out to a 9-0 lead, widening the margin to 17 points,  near the end of the first half. Visions of the University of Louisville basketball program spiraling into oblivion.

But wait. Five minutes into the second half. Some vital signs emerging, the patient stirring, still breathing, coming out of the coma. Deng Adel scoring six straight points to cut the deficit to eight points. Does one dare imagine a comeback with this team?

Never was there a win so unexpected or so welcome for a team needing something good to happen.

A layup by Ray Spalding, down to six. Then back up to eight. Ryan McMahon with a 3-pointer, down to five. Did the switch turn on? Are we seeing things? Are these guys serious? Are they teasing us? Too good to be true, surely an aberration. Are these our guys making a comeback?

Florida State will extend the lead to eight again but the Cardinals are not done. A 3-pointer by Quinten Snider, two free throws by Spalding, and a three by Adel will tie the game up at 55-55. This is really happening.

UofL will finally get its first lead (64-62) on a 3-pointer by Ryan McMahon at the 4:55 mark. He will strike again, with another 3-pointer with 55 second to put UofL up by five. And he will nail the door shut with two free throws at the 1.5 mark to seal a 73-69 win for Louisville.

Never has a University of Louisville needed a win at this point in the season more badly than this one, facing an outlook with which few UofL could come to grips.

Showing some signs of life, emerging from the shadows, clawing their way out of the depths of despair. Never was there a win so unexpected or so welcome for a team needing something good to happen.

No one coming to their rescue, they have to make it happen. And they will. Proof of life, indeed.

Asia Durr returns intact, Louisville women edge Duke

A scary few minutes for University of Louisville basketball fans as Asia Durr is carried off the floor in the first half after incurring an ankle injury. She returned a few minutes later to an ovation.

One of those moments in the first half for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team when Asia Durr goes down in pain, having twisted an ankle, banging her fists on the floor in frustration.

Up to that point Durr had already scored 14 points on her way to another big night. Fans in the crowd of 8,101 holding their collective breath, willing her to return, exhaling a few minutes later, giving Asia an ovation as she returns to the court.

Nightmare scenario avoided. Durr would cool off on her way to a 22-point performance in 34 minutes of playing time. Third-ranked UofL would defeat 17th-ranked Duke 66-60 for its 17th win without a loss this season.

Duke would reduce a 14-point Louisville lead to three points at one point, with the Cardinals leaning heavily on senior Myisha Hines-Allen in the second half. The UofL senior would score 10 points and retrieve 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double this season and the 34th of her career.

Sam Fuehring becoming a consistent contributor, adding 12 points and seven rebounds. Her two free throws with 22 seconds remaining giving UofL a five-point lead and some breathing room.

Next up is Virginia Tech (12-3) ON Sunday at 2 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center.

Kenny Payne non-starter for Louisville coaching job

Kenny Payne? No thanks.

Kenny Payne was a contributor on UofL’s national championship team in 1986.

A couple of local sportswriters, taking advantage of the ultra sensitive relations between the two schools, are trumpeting Kentucky’s Kenny Payne to be a candidate for the University of Louisville’s head basketball coach.

One has no reason to doubt that Payne is a sharp individual with an ability to relate to college basketball players. But he will never be seriously considered as a contender for the UofL job for obvious reasons.

Rick Bozich, of WDRB TV, calls several former UofL players about Payne, including Billy Thompson, Pervis Ellison, Rodney and Scooter McCray, Jerry Eaves and Butch Beard. The results are predictable, all of them wanting Payne to have a shot at the job.  What did he expect them to say? Bozich even gets Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, most recently at SMU, to endorse Payne because of his ability to relate to players.

David Padgett’s team has won 11 of its first 14 games but the coaching succession talk has already begun (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Tim Sullivan, a Courier-Journal columnist, tweets that “More than one high-rolling Louisville fan has told me the Cardinals’ next coach should be Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne.” In another tweet he says that a former UofL trustee (Jonathan Blue) says that Payne “checks all the boxes,” to be Louisville’s next coach.

Nice try, guys, generating lots of conversation and controversy, not to mention clicks. However, the last time we checked, David Padgett, with the exception of a bad loss to UK, has been doing a decent job with a 11-3 record in his first season, albeit as interim head coach.  The job is not currently open and may not be unless the season winds up in a total dump heap.

Even more importantly, the last thing UofL basketball needs is to hire another coach from UK. It’s going to take years for UofL to recover from the aftermath of Rick Pitino, a former Kentucky coach, who left under dire circumstances with the program’s reputation badly damaged. Constantly looking to UK for coaches is not a good look for UofL.

Also, with Louisville basketball seeking to earn its way back to respectability, why would the school want to take a chance on an individual tied to a UK program many suspect of questionable recruiting. It is well known that UK has close ties with William Wesley, a powerful influence on college basketball recruiting, and that Wesley and Payne go way back.

Curious that Rick Bozich would contact Larry Brown about Payne when three programs with which Brown has been associated — UCLA, Kansas and SMU — were punished for illegal recruiting practices during his tenure. UK Coach John Calipari, well known for his innovative recruiting practices, has his own bad history, with vacated wins and Final Fours at Massachusetts and Memphis.

With the arrests of some assistant coaches and agents back in September, the FBI warned about”the dark underbelly of college athletics,” and indicated that investigations would be ongoing. If the FBI is to be taken at its word, UofL should steer clear of any individual involved in questionable recruiting practices.

Payne was a good player at Louisville from 1985 through the 1989 seasons, competing on UofL ‘s national championship team in 1986. He had a nice jump shot, players seem to like him, and his teams get recruits (see above). As for leadership and coaching abilities, however, the jury is still out.

All David Padgett needs at this juncture is to have some half serious sportswriters and talk show hosts taking advantage of the rivalry to stir up controversy. He had a lot to learn, obviously, but it is much too premature to be discussing any possible successors.

As with Padgett, Kenny Payne has no previous head coaching experience. Ten games into Payne’s first season, we would be having another conversation about the next candidate from UK to be the UofL coach, with much prompting from writers like Bozich and Sullivan.

Enough with the UK harrassment already.

Mahmoud, Spalding live big, Louisville routs Siena

The light switch may have finally been flipped for Anas Mahmoud in an 86-60 win for the University of Louisville over Siena College before a crowd of 17,215 at the KFC Yum! Center. 

Whether the switch remains in the on position depends on whether he continues to be an active participant  or is only passively involved. One can hope that he stays as engaged as he was during the second half. Apparently something he heard at halftime got him going.

Ray Spalding and Jordan Nwora battle for a rebound,with Spalding prevailing this night (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The 7-foot senior center went from a decent first half to a dominant second half, stuffing the stat sheet — dunking on Siena over and over in final 20 minutes — on his way to a near triple double, with 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots.

Mahmoud has shown brief glimpses of potential during the past three seasons but nothing resembling his latest showing, energy that was lacking from him in the team’s two losses. Not like overwhelming Siena is anything to write home about, but at least it’s a start. 

“Ray (Spalding) and I need to make things happen under the basket to take some of the pressure off the guards,” he said after the game. Indeed.  He also could added something about the intensity level he brought to the game in that second half.

Spalding, meanwhile, was scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, blocking four shots, and making four steals. Spalding and Mahmoud had managed only two points and nine rebounds in Sunday’s two-point loss to Seton Hall.

So Mahmoud and Spalding came out of their shells, at least temporarily, confirming that they may have the ability to live up to their potential. Nothing to get overly excited about, not until they live up to the talk, the promise, and prove they can do it and do it consistently again better competition.

An indication of whether the switch has really flipped for these guys will come soon enough, with UofL entertaining Indiana at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.

Learning curve continues against Seton Hall for David Padgett

Coach David Padgett gets in the ear of Deng Adel (in top photo) during crunch time against Seton Hall. Anas Mahmoud, Malik Williams, V. J. King and Dwayne Sutton (above) reflect the second low in a row (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

This was never going to be easy, thrusting a 32-year-old into the head coach’s role for University of Louisville basketball. No expectations, no aspirations, hurry up, just fill the post vacated by a Hall of Fame coach.

Deng Adel under for a reverse layup for two of his team-leading 20 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

David Padgett had only a couple of days to think about it, never vacillating, taking the job, a shortcut to the big time. The players needed someone, wanted him. A shaky time for the team and the fan base. Much to learn, much to teach, not a lot of time.

Could wind up being the school of hard knocks for everyone concerned, as was evident in UofL’s 79-77 loss to Seton Hall before 19,244 at the KFC Yum! Center. Three starters committing four turnovers apiece, most coming at the worst possible times, and with the trio of guards managing only five assists. 

A return to the days of not so long ago when Louisville struggled to have a presence in the middle. Anas Mahmoud, still a seven-foot lightweight after adding 20 pounds in four years, collecting two fouls before breaking a sweat Unable to collect a rebound, make an assist or score a point in 20 minutes.

Dwayne Sutton collecting nine points and three rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Ray Spalding, still struggling with his awkwardness, not much of a factor in the paint or on the boards, managing two points and four rebounds, respectively. Needs to bring all that progress he was said to be making in practice on game days.

Deng Adel, looking good in the scoring column, with 20 points while making seven of 12 field goal attempts and six of six free throws. But having a hard time finding open teammates, especially with the game on the line. Possibly not trusting himself or his teammates at times, making questionable decisions, resulting in blown opportunities.

Quentin Snider, playing better at home than he did at Purdue, having one of his better games of the season. Only to have it go sour for him and be remembered for that errant jump shot in the closing seconds. 

Snider would collect a scant two assists and UofL would be credited with only eight of them for the game, indicating there may be too much one-on-one action and too little passing.  Not much looking for teammates or players not moving without the ball. 

V. J. King still not able to stop anybody on the defensive end or find people around under the basket but contributing 14 points.

Newcomers Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton scoring 10 and 8 points, respectively, but with only one assist between them. 

Padgett, meanwhile, giving his players the benefit of any doubts, suggesting they will get better. Not getting in any faces, not embarrassing anyone during timeouts, rarely raising his voice, being respectful with officials, always the gentleman for now.

He’s new, taking a different tact, relating to a new generation of players in a different way than his predecessors. Going to be interesting to see if his well-mannered approach is successful.  Could be he may have to resort to some more less subtle ways of communicating if things don’t start clicking soon.

Padgett will eventually be successful. But there may be some steep learning curves. Definitely no shortcuts.