Cards, We Barely Know Ye

Not at the point of looking for answers, at least not yet.
Crunch time has arrived in Rick Pitino's most recent chapter.

The time has finally arrived.

The exhibition games, the embarrassing early-season loss, the coming back down to earth for inflated players and fans, the uncomfortably close games and run-away wins against no-chance schools.

Done.

Time for testing, time for growth, time to take the real measure of this year’s University of Louisville basketball team. The results during the early going really haven’t revealed much about how the Cards will perform. What we do know is that this is a team missing the leadership skills of David Padgett, and still waiting to see who will fill the void.

Rick Pitino says he likes this team but it’s obvious he has been using the early season to find the best player combinations. The question is whether he has found a few solutions or whether questions still outnumber answers.

The Cards have gotten off to slow starts in most games, even against lesser talented teams, largely relying on superior depth to wilt the opposition. No evidence whatsoever of a team that will dominate even average teams and little indication of a killer instinct.

At least, not yet.

Time to see how quickly a group of freshmen with vast potential will mature against real competition. Thus far, the Cards have played down to the level of the competition, or even below the level in the loss to Western Kentucky.

The real season begins against Mississippi in the Big East-SEC basketball challenge at Cincinnati. Conference pride at stake, time to salvage some of it after the the Big East lost the first two games in the challenge. Not good to lose to SEC schools; they will never let you forget.

Next in quick succession come Minnesota, UAB, Las Vegas, and Kentucky.

The time has arrived.

Shaking Off The Nods, 94-75

Who wakes up first, the fans or the players? Had to be the players today because the crowd wasn’t feeding anyone but itself. Excuse me, but there is a basketball game going on.

The lighting effects, the blasting music, the shrill announcing, that stuff is old hat, creating an artificial atmosphere. Rob Hickerson, the aging cheerleader, was doing his thing in the southeast corner but still heads were nodding. The younger crowd, the brashers always criticizing the older crowd, still recovering from the holiday cheer, one ventures.

The slumber continued until Preston Knowles made good on a three-pointer at the 10 minute mark in the second half to put the University of Louisville ahead to stay at 58-56.

Nothing wakes up a Freedom Hall crowd faster than when the Cards start taking an opponent seriously. The fans are sure to follow.

— UofL would be unbeatable with Preston Knowles playing 30 minutes a game. He plays defense with a ferocity not seen around here since the Roger Burkman days. The bonus with Knowles is that he’s also a shooter, claiming 21 points today.

— Terrence Williams not quite himself yet, still recovering from the knee operation, possibly. And what’s the arm-length bandaging of his left arm? He’s still among the most physically talented players on any floor but he is still working on feeling totally healed maybe.

— Earl Clark just can’t get excited about playing teams without name recognition. Needs to working on his intensity now to be able to manage it in Big East competition.

— Have to keep congratulating Edgar Sosa when he makes good passes like the one to Knowles but we have to look the other way as he mows through people going down the lane.

— Nice to see Samardo Samuels being seen hauling in rebounds, five on the offensive boards (!) and six on the defensive end. Fortunately, he’s a great free throw shooter (9 of 10 today).

— Jarod Swopshire, Terrence Jennings and Reginald Delk need to quit acting like typical freshmen. Talent will get you somewhere.

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Ohio U Dosage, Louisville 91-56

A couple of games may have been just what the University of Louisville men’s basketball team needed after five torturous days of practice, an escape from the embarrassment of losing to Western Kentucky,  the nonstop Rick Pitino-isms, all the redundancy and repetitions, and the doubting ugly reflections in the mirror.

Welcome back Jerry Smith. First a jumper, then a tip-in and a long-range three-pointer for the Cards’ first seven points, en route to 16 points. Two fouls but neither of them of the wasteful variety.

Earl Clark looking like the Earl Clark of last year’s post-season, but better: Eight assists, 14 rebounds (including three on the offensive boards), and 17 points. Did we mention eight assists?

Samardo Samuels, yes, we saw him playing defense. Thought about it, and decided it was time. Has learned he is going to have to work harder to get open. Collected 17 points, nine of them during his 10 shots from the free throw line. Don’t forget the four rebounds, two of them oEn offense.

Edgar Sosa looks good when he hits those tricky layup attempts, horrible when he doesn’t. Three assists but two turnovers. Needs to keep working on that ratio.

Terrence Williams, your teammates proved they can beat Ohio U when you have an off day but beating Big East foes will be more difficult. Hitting only one of seven from the field and one of six from the free throw line. Four assists but six turnovers? Where’s our T-will?

Andre McGee has had better days, too, but he claimed six defensive rebounds.

Kyle Kuric is going to be a regular contributor soon.  He’s the protypical Pitino player.

A Laugher And Raised Eye Brows:
Louisville 83, Indiana State 43

A 40-point win is always nice but nobody was getting worked up at Freedom Hall with a team that was 0-5 coming into the fray. The margin could easily have been 20 points higher, with Indiana State’s depleted lineup due to academic problems. Some eyebrow raisers as the Cards prepare for a Sunday 4 p.m. date with Ohio University:

— The starting guard situation for U of L remains in flux with freshman Kyle Kuric starting today instead of either Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee or Preston Knowles. Kuric shows great promise but starting over three veterans? With all that experience, both of the guard positions should be set by now.

— Rebounding remains a concern even though the Cards pulled off 45 of them compared to 34 for Indiana State. But Indiana State has been out-rebounded every game. The Sycamores were tied with the Cards with 19 rebounds in the first half even though they were being pummeled on the scoreboard.

— Samardo Samuels managed only three rebounds, his total matched by Terrence Jennings in a reserve role.

— Western Kentucky delivered the blueprint for containing Samuels last week. The big guy, who had been averaging 21 points before the WKU loss, managed 17 points today, nine of them in the second with the Sycamores gasping for their collective breath.

— An uncertain Jarad Swopshire is not into the flow of the college game yet, hesitating, thinking, waiting to get involved. This is not a gentleman’s game; get involved.

While these are admittedly nits for now,  they could become major concerns.

Francisco Garcia Returns To Kings’ Starting Lineup

Francisco Garcia finally returned to the starting lineup for the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday after missing six weeks due to a calf injury. It was a long time for Coach Reggie Theus who has seen his team lacking energy and passing up shots at crucial points.Garcia

As the Sacramento Bee reported, it was going to be difficult to tell who would be happier, the former University of Louisville star or the former UofL assistant:

“His competitiveness is something we need desperately,” said Theus, whose team has lost seven of its last eight games. “It’s his attitude. He’s one of the leaders on this team, a verbal, emotional leader.

“He wants the ball down the stretch. He’s a guy who stretches the defense. Last year, he was one of the best on-ball defenders we had.”

Garcia didn’t disappoint, accumulating 11 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal and zero turnovers in 31 minutes during a 99-95 loss to Utah. As he rounds back into shape, watch for continued improvement.

The Kings currently have a 5-15 won-lost record and are in fifth place in the Pacific Division of the NBA’s Western Conference.