Rope-a-dope style not cool for Louisville basketball

By Ed Peak

Okay, the critics can begin. “I knew this was going to happen sooner or later.”

Yes, Louisville was totally outplayed by North Carolina Saturday but it’s not the end. Not with three more ranked teams to follow. Plenty of time to readjust, get more quality wins.

A lot of things went wrong during the loss to North Carolina. Rebounding. Consistent scoring from some of its leading scorers. But the most puzzling things missing were the excitement and toughness the Cardinals have played with this season.

Maybe the Cards were thinking playing at home against a team three weeks earlier they embarrassed 83-62, wouldn’t be that tough. Not Saturday, this was North Carolina, ninth ranked team in the nation.

Coach Chris Mack bemoans lack of fire in a 10-point loss to North Carolina (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“I didn’t think we came out with much fire,” said Louisville Coach Chris Mack. “I’m disappointed for our fans, great environment and essentially to end the half with no offensive rebounds and let Carolina dismantle us one the glass. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am, that effort alone.”

The game was designated as a “white out” and had a boxing theme with Muhammad Ali videos. But the Cardinals came out limping and were out-punched. North Carolina had four players score in double figures, led by Luke Maye’s 20 points and 11 rebounds. Cam Johnson added 19 points and 10 rebounds. UNC out-rebounded the Cards 49-32, 18-7 on the offensive boards good for 18 second chance points.

Louisville (16-6, 7-2) ranked 15th once in the first half missed 10 of 11 shots from the field and trailed 44-28 at halftime. The Cards did bounce off the mat cutting the lead to 58-49 midway through the second half.

Guard Christen Cunningham was on his game with 15 points, four rebounds, nine assists and one turnover. Cunningham agreed with Sutton.
“We just got bullied. I mean we got punched.,” said Cunningham. “We didn’t drive them out. I think Carolina, their staple is two things. Transition and rebounding we knew. We just didn’t perform like we needed to.”

The Cards play at 12th ranked Virginia Tech (18-3, 7-2 ACC) Monday. The Hokies under Buzz Williams are coming off a record setting 47-24 road victory over a good North Carolina State team Saturday. Monday’s game will be the second of four straight ACC opponents. 

No time for more rope-a-dope, passive aggressive is counter productive.

Louisville women sock UConn, 17,023 rock the Yum!

Louisville’s Asia Durr is embraced by UConn Coach Geno Auriemma following UofL’s win (top photo). The Louisville bench erupts following one of five 3-pointers by Dana Evans. Below, UofL Coach Jeff Walz thanks the crowd of 17,023 for all the support (Cindy Rice Shelton photos). 

A long time between wins, so many futile efforts, numerous beatings at the hands of UConn over two decades.  Two days before Ground Hog Day, concern and fear about another possible blowout. Been there in many of those 17 straight losses.

The largest crowd to see a women’s college basketball game of 17,023 were on hand at the KFC Yum! Center.

In the past, hang with them for a couple of baskets, throw the ball away a couple of times, and wave goodbye. That scenario quickly coming to mind with UConn jumping out to a 6-2 lead. Here we go again?

Not this time, not with this year’s edition of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Not even with leading scorer Asia Durr being held scoreless in the first quarter, missing all four of her field goal attempts. Not to worry, Jazmine Jones, Sam Fuehring and Dana Evans were taking up the slack, unfazed by the opponent, giving Asia time to find her shooting touch.

No intimidation, no regrets, no coulda, woulda, shoulda’s this time around, a premier performance in front of a national ESPN television audience and a crowd of 17,023 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. Third-ranked Louisville handing second-ranked UConn a 78-69 defeat, their second loss of the season. Improving their own record to 20-1 in the process.

“At the end of the first quarter, Asia was sitting there on the chair and I told her to smile,” said Coach Jeff Walz. “Put a smile on your face. It’s 21-21 and you’ve got great teammates. Embrace that and enjoy it.

“She smiled and said, yes, I do have great teammates. She is so unselfish and special, and that’s what makes her such a good player.”

Durr would warm up quickly in the second quarter, hitting her first 3-pointer in the first 54 seconds. She would follow that up with three more 3-pointers and 14 of her team’s 19 points to give UofL a 40-38 lead at the half. She would lead all scorers with 24 points for the game.

Evans would wind up with 20 points, including five 3-pointers. Fuehring and Jones would each have double-doubles — Fuehring with 10 points and 12 rebounds, Jones with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“It was a huge win for our program,” said Walz. “We haven’t beaten them in 26 years and they’re 206-5 over the past four seasons. Think about that. I’m excited to be 55-4 over the same stretch. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do so, yes, it’s a huge win for our program.”

UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, unaccustomed to losing basketball games, was in a state of shock at the post-game press conference, saying his two-loss team had a lot to learn. “We made a lot of mistakes tonight and Louisville took advantage of every one of them,” he said. “We struggle with teams that have the size and quickness that Louisville has.”

Auriemma said UofL players play well together, they know their roles and play good defense. “Jeff has built a tremendous program here,” he concluded.

Photo gallery by Cindy Rice Shelton:

Kylee Shook a key player for Louisville women against UConn

Kylee Shook will play a decisive role in the fortunes of University of Louisville women’s basketball (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

The time is arriving soon for Kylee Shook, the sooner the better, for her to raise her game to another level, become a dominant player.

The ideal time for Shook to flourish would be in the game everyone has been waiting for, the University of Louisville vs. UConn on Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center. UConn second, UofL third in women’s college basketball in the latest Associated Press poll.

Not that Shook isn’t having a decent season, she is, averaging 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-4 junior has a 50.2% field goal shooting percentage (59 of 117) and 35.7% from behind the 3-point line (10 or 28). She also has an amazing 27 blocks to go with 14 assists and 13 steals this season.

Earlier in the season, Kylee seemed at times reluctant to mix it up beneath the basket in a game that has become increasingly physical. Kylee has quietly had two double-doubles this year, including 10 points and 11 rebounds against a good North Carolina team and 15 points and 14 rebounds against Northern Kentucky.  

Her most impressive performance may have come two games ago. In a 68-49 win at Florida State, she had eight points, nine rebounds and five blocks in 27 minutes

Nice statistics for a player coming off the bench, but one still can help but believe she is capable of more on a consistent basis. Or maybe one is thinking ahead to next season when, as a senior, she will inevitably become a starter, thrust into a leadership role and will need to become indispensable.

The best time for Shook to take it to the next level would be Thursday.  UofL needs Kylee at her best to have a chance of ending that 17-game losing streak against UConn.  

Ed Peak: ACC race becomes more daunting for Louisville basketball

Jordan Nwora’s continued development will be pivotal for the University of Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference race (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

By Ed Peak

The college basketball season is a long drawn out mixture of highs and lows, ups and downs for its teams. I like to look at the season in segments. Preseason. End of non conference. Midway through conference. Beginning of post season. Lots of opportunities to change opinions.

With February 1 quickly approaching and the halfway point in the Atlantic Coast Conference race, here are some thoughts about the Louisville Cardinals (15-5, 6-1).

Christen Cunningham, the right point guard at the right time for UofL basketball (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Play hard. Solid defensively. A little inconsistent offensively. And where would this team be without graduate transfers, guards Christen Cunningham and Khwan Fore?

Cunningham has been consistent with his point guard duties most of the season and has turned into more of a scorer lately. One can count on his passing to get the ball to the right place. Or he will drive to the basket and get points and get fouled. His 3-point shooting has been good as well.

Khwan Ford becoming more comfortable, finding his shooting touch (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Khwan Fore is more of a defensive oriented guard. Against North Carolina State he had season highs of nine points and four assists were pluses while forcing the Wolfpack into several turnovers. He followed that with eight points in a win over Pittsburgh, Saturday.

Though undersized, Cunningham and Fore  pressure teams into mistakes and don’t turn the ball over –must-have qualities for a starting backcourt.

Malik Williams, a 6-foot-11 forward, is interesting. He loves hanging around the three-point line and can make the long jumpers occasionally. He is 17 of 47 though 20 games from three. When he gets inside he can rebound and block shots.

Continue reading “Ed Peak: ACC race becomes more daunting for Louisville basketball”

Louisville gets back at Pitt in defensive donnybrook

Coach Chris Mack’s team winning its fifth consecutive ACC game, tied for first with a 6-1 conference mark (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of those grinders, a game that was going to be decided by the most tenacious defense. Both teams struggling to make shots.

The University of Louisville would survive the skirmish, the battle of the elbows, the arm slappers, the abrasions, the bumps and the knee-knockers. Daring the Panthers to take a shot, limiting the visitors to only five baskets and 18 points in the second half.

Coach Chris Mack is a staunch advocate of suffocating defenses. Absolutely essential this game, the Cardinals themselves were connecting on only 22 of 56 shots in a 66-51 win before a crowd of 16,929 at the KFC Yum! Center.  

The fifth conference win in a row for the Cardinals since losing by three to Pittsburgh just a couple of weeks ago. Quite a different look Saturday, the Cardinals shutting down all those penetrating guards and relentless 3-point shooters.

“We played as well defensively as we have all year,” said Mack afterwards. “This game showed the character of our team. It’s easy to win a game when things are going well for you, the shots are falling and everybody’s scoring.

Christen Cunningham playing point to perfection, with a total of seven assists (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“When the shots aren’t going in, however, you have to have the stick-to-it-ness to get the job done. And that’s we did today.”

Pitt Coach Jeff Capel with high praise for UofL point guard Christen Cunningham. The graduate transfer managing only five points but coming through with a total of seven assists. The most memorable — the dagger as it were — coming with 7:46 remaining in the game, the perfect pass to Jordan Nwora for a roof-raising alley-oop to give Louisville a nine-point lead.

“He values the ball, he doesn’t turn it over, he has a great grasp of their offense,” said Capel. “He’s had some really good offensive games. Today, he didn’t score the ball well, but he ran their team and he assisted. He didn’t turn the ball over much. He’s a really good player.”

Louisville was led by Nwora and Steven Enoch with 17 and 12 points, respectively. Enoch with a rare double-double, adding 11 rebounds as well.

A different outcome Saturday, Mack acknowledging his team approached the rematch much differently. “I think we all had respect for Pitt the second time around,” he said. “Every game counts the same in the standings. Unfortunately we put ourselves behind the eight ball at Pittsburgh.”