Fun for Mahmoud, Spalding, Louisville breezes past Bryant

Anas Mahmoud (featured photo) goes unmolested for two of his 17 points as he continued to dominate the boards. Mahmoud leads cheers from the bench with the game out of reach, along with Lance Thomas (left) and Jacob Redding (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Not a game for the ages. If fans remember anything from the University of Louisville basketball team’s 102-50 romp over Bryant, it will be the vision of Anas Mahmoud intercepting a pass at mid-court, running full stride, and finishing with a dunk.

Having fun again, Mahmoud waving a towel on the sideline as the bench puts the finishing touches on a third win in a row. The UofL c0-captain laughing and cheering, clearly enjoying himself, creating new levels of chemistry.

Ray Spalding goes up for one his nine rebounds. He had 11 points in the game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The 7-foot senior from Egypt tying Quentin Snider and Deng Adel for scoring honors with 17 points. Pulling down nine rebounds, making three assists, blocking three shots and that marvelous steal that somehow never made the official stats.

Pretty consistent over the last three games if not against the stiffest of competition, Mahmoud contributing a total of 44 points and 25 rebounds. Avoiding foul problems for the most part, making it difficult for people to shoot, picking up some good habits. Just needs to carry them forward against ever tougher competition.

Not a bad night for the other big guy either, one Ray Spalding coming through with 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals? Good to see that side of Ray, hopefully gaining some much need confidence, building for the future.

If Louisville is to do anything special this season, Spalding will have had to be right there with Mahmoud, and it will have started in the pre-conference portion of the schedule.

New clutch players emerge as UofL outlasts Indiana

Ryan McMahan (in top photo) returns from an eight-game absence to provide some much needed leadership. Above, Ray Spalding swats the basketball away with one of his five blocks during the win over Indiana (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Fans needing time after this one to catch their collective breath in a game that could have gone in several different directions for either team.

A couple of premier basketball programs struggling to find their way under new head coaches, with lots of misdirection, uncertainty and awkwardness during the adolescence phase of the birthing cycle. Searching for leadership, natural or otherwise, someone to cut through the clumsiness, provide some direction.

A handful of players would step up for the University of Louisville at various points in the game, leading the Cardinals to a much needed 71-62 win over Indiana before a crowd of 20,030 Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Malik Williams, for example, entering the game at the 8:24 mark in the first half, his team behind 25-15, barely hanging on, needing something good to happen.  The 6-foot-11 freshman would make good on three of three 3-point field goal attempts over the next six minutes to pull UofL to within one point at the half.

Deng Adel would lead all scorers with 16 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Also instrumental in that first half resurgence was Ryan McMahon, who had missed the first eight games of the season. He, too, would also sink a three-pointer during that late second half rally. He will score only three points in the game but the highlight reel will include two marvelous assists to Anas Mahmoud and Dwayne Sutton in the second half.

Ray Spalding would live up to his pre-season hype for a second straight game, coming through with five blocks, two of them when Louisville absolutely had to have them. He would wind up with 10 points and two assists. He had 10 points, four blocks and four steals against Siena on Tuesday.

Deng Adel and Quentin Snider, UofL’s two leading scorers with 16 and 13 points, respectively, would need all the backup they could get on Saturday and they got it. Players creating new roles for themselves, new layers of confidence, and providing something to build on.

Attendance dip a concern for some but there are bennies

Lots of discussion on some sports talk radio shows about empty seats at the KFC Yum! Center for men’s and women’s basketball games. As if that is some sort of a surprise considering what has happened in the University of Louisville athletic department over the past few months.

The ironic part is that attendance for both UofL programs surpasses the vast majority of other schools for the same sport. Most of the concern seems to come from media people who haven’t paid for a ticket in years. Some are not native Louisvillians, and the younger ones certainly weren’t around when attendance was a legitimate issue.

Need to give UofL fans more credit. They've been through a lot but they've always been supportive.

The UofL men’s team is averaging 18,028 after the first five games while the women are attracting 6,078 after their first seven. Most basketball programs would be highly envious of those numbers. One suspects the analysts aren’t looking past the empties in the most expensive sections.

Still, one must acknowledge that attendance is down a bit, probably for a number of reasons. Significant fallout inevitably followed the stripper scandal and the FBI sting, including reactions to the abrupt departures of Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich.  Changes in the boards of trustees and in the University administration added to the discontent.

Attendance could also be affected by the fact that pre-conference schedules have never been that popular, with teams seeking to find their identities in  games against lesser foes. The basketball season begins earlier every year, directly competing for fans’ attention when the college football season is reaching its climax. Then, of course, there are the ever increasing cost of season tickets and contributions, sometimes forcing fans to make hard choices.

There’s also the attraction of big-screens TVs at home, which provide better views of the games than viewing them in person. Not having to pay $5.50 for a bag of popcorn, $7 for a Pepsi in a souvenir cup, or $8 bucks for a beer in a clear plastic cup. 

Whether the dip in attendance is a problem depends on one’s perspective. There are still more occupied seats than there are empty seats, especially for the men’s games.  From one who attended games at Freedom Hall in the Sixties and Seventies where attendance averaged between 8,000 and 9,000, having attendance numbers at the KFC Yum! Center exceed 18,000 for most pre-conference games is never a bad thing. 

Actually there are some advantages to fans for lower attendance, including easier access, better choices of seats, and shorter lines for concessions and restrooms. The people at lesser-attended games seem to be more knowledgeable and more loyal to UofL sports. Getting out of the parking garages after games is much easier as well.

Some, including Jeff Walz, the women’s basketball coach, have expressed disappointment in attendance, urging people to show up for games. The last time I looked, the women were averaging over 6,000 persons a game, a far cry from the 1,000 or so prior to the Angel McCoughtry era. My experience from the earlier days is that constantly encouraging fans to go out to games has rarely much of an effect. Even free tickets and $1 coupons didn’t help much in the Seventies. 

Need to give UofL fans more credit. They’ve been through a lot but they’ve always been supportive. They are fiercely loyal when it comes to supporting the Cardinals, and they will be back soon enough. The conference portion of the schedules is just around the corner as well.

Meanwhile, enjoy the extra leg room, the greater availability of tickets and the ability to easily move to better seats while you can.

Akron continues to haunt Ken Lolla and Louisville soccer

Louisville goalie Will Meyer, a redshirt freshman (in both photos), kept his team in the hunt against Akron until the final play, a penalty kick knocking UofL out of the NCAA tournament (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Ken Lolla can’t go home again. Doesn’t need to because he keeps bumping into Akron at the most inopportune times.

More often than not soccer is a tedious drawn-out game, with continuous action, lots of repetition, and more than its share of frustration. So little scoring that one can easily miss the climax if not paying strict attention.

The University of Louisville and Akron played 110 minutes Friday night without scoring a goal , forcing the 3,179 in attendance to sit through a dozen penalty kick attempts.

Junior Tate Schmitt, UofL’s leading scorer with nine goals this season, made good on a penalty kick (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

No denying the tension and excitement at this point, however. High drama, everything on the line. When it was all over, Akron had won the NCAA quarterfinal game, with Akron out-kicking the Cardinals  4-3.

Will Meyer, UofL redshirt freshman goalie, keeping Akron at bay, credited with three saves during regulation and two overtimes. Blocking two penalty kick attempts, sending it into another sudden death. Alas, the deciding goal was delivered by  Akron’s Niko De Vera.

Ken Lolla coached at Akron before coming to Louisville 12 years ago so he could make UofL a national contender in soccer. He has more than delivered on that goal but Akron may still be the better program.

For the second time in seven years, Akron has eliminated the Cardinals from the NCAA’s College Cup. The first time in 2010, a 1-0 defeat in the national championship game.

Go away Akron.

Lamar Jackson nears perfection as Louisville football rips Kentucky

Reggie Bonnafon and Lamar Jackson emerge from the tunnel for their final regular season game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Lamar Jackson may be reaching his peak as the end of an unforgettable era draws near. Much better than the player who won the Heisman Trophy last season.

Lamar Jackson fields questions at press conference following UofL’s sixth win in the last seven games against UK (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson has created a lot of magical memories during his career as the Louisville quarterback but he may have waited until the final regular season game for one of his best overall performances. Couldn’t have come at a better time than in a 44-17 win over Kentucky.

Jackson has had numerous games in which he has run or passed for three or more touchdowns, surpassing 100 yards rushing and over 300 through the air. He did it so frequently that it almost became routine, something football fans took for granted.

This was one of those rare games when he didn’t run for a single touchdown and he only passed for two touchdowns. But he never had a more complete game, with UofL scoring every time it got the ball before Jackson left late in the game.  UofL punter Mason King would not be needed in this one, thank you.

Coach Bobby Petrino would say afterward that “Lamar Jackson is the best player you’re ever going to see. There has never been a player like him and there won’t be for a long time.”

Haunted by costly fumbles and interceptions in last season’s loss to UK, Jackson said he had been looking forward to this game for a year. Nothing but pinpoint passing in this one, completing 15 of 21 passes to seven different players for 216 yards.

No hesitating, no panicking, no mistakes. Knowing what to do with the ball on every play. Getting lots of help again from Reggie Bonnafon with two touchdowns to go with nine carries for 64 yards and Dae Williams with six carries for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Getting plenty of protection from a greatly improved offensive line, yielding no sacks, paving the way for 32 UofL first downs, compared to only 20 for Kentucky.  The defense, while giving up 211 yards to Bennie Snell, allowed only eight passes to be completed, holding UK to 110 passing yards.

Petrino with plenty of accolades for a team that looked like it was going nowhere before winning the last three games. “The assistant coaches kept coming to work with a positive attitude and a great work ethic,” he said. “The defense kept bringing, they just kept coming. I’m really happy with the way we played. The execution was great.”

Petrino said it was so much fun to see how much Jackson has grown during over the past three seasons. “He’s the ultimate competitor. I don’t think I’ve ever been around someone who likes to compete as much as he does. He backs it up with confidence, and he’s so humble.

“He was on the sideline cheering and encouraging every guy on the field  after he came out of the game. He’s the greatest teammate and greatest kid in the world.”