Louisville women turn lights out on Virginia Tech

^ Kylee Shook for two of her 15 points – Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook lead their fellow seniors for a victory lap after their day at the KFC Yum! Center (Mike DeZarn photo).
Bionca Dunham and Yacine Diop battle for a rebound (Cindy Rice Shelton photo0.

Senior Day for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Time to officially recognize the incredible accomplishments of a class that participated in a record number of 124 wins over the past four seasons.

Talking about Jazmine Jones, Kylee Shook, Bionca Dunham, Jessica Laemmle and, yes, Yacine Diop, the transfer from Pittsburgh. Having wrapped the first unfettered Atlantic Coast Conference regular season championship during their final season.

Jessica Laemmle in a rare start role, getting her team off to a good start and a lead they would never relinquish (Mike DeZarn photo).

Laemmle, the 5-foot-2 dynamo, getting her first start in a Cardinals’ uniform, connecting on a 15-foot jumper. Those would be her only points, but she had set the tone, with Louisville rolling to a convincing 70-53 win over a very good Virginia Tech team.

Shook with still another double-double, with 12 points and 15 points, plus three assists, a steal and a block. Jones with a game-leading 17 points and three assists. Dunham with nine rebounds and eight points. Diop with eight points and two steals. 

Jeff Walz with flowers for each of the seniors, celebrating still another ACC regular season championship (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The other good news, witnessed by a crowd of 10,423 people at the KFC Yum! Center, was the return of recently injured Dana Evans and Elizabeth Balogun to action. Entering from the bench, Evans would score eight points and make four assists in just over 24 minutes. Balogun with three points in her 15 minutes.  Both on the way to recovery.

The Cardinals would force Virginia Tech into 18 turnovers, earning 21 points over the VT errors, while making only seven turnovers themselves. 

“Our kids did a fantastic job,” said UofL Coach Jeff Walz. “We went into this game knowing Tech could shoot the three point shot, especially Dara Mabley and Aisha Sheppard. We knew that if Elizabeth Kitley gets 30, she would get 30, but we only going to give them two-point attempts …”

Between Mabley and Sheppard would get only five 3-point attempts while making only one of them, contributing only seven points collectively.  Kitley, a  6-foot-5 candidate for ACC freshman of the year, would get 17 points.

Gallery courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton

UofL women are your ACC regular season champs

Jazmine Jones leading the cheers from the bench. along with Mykasa Robinson (Mike DeZarn photos).

Boston College with everything to play for, riding a five-game winning streak, vying for a top four finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Knowing the University of Louisville women were again without starters Dana Evans and Elizabeth Balogun. 

Big, strong, sharp shooting BC ready to catch UofL on an off night, maybe looking ahead to the ACC tournament. That was the upset scenario anyway.

UofL, however, not liking that script, not going along for the ride, not taking anything for granted. 

The Cardinals would race to 46-24 halftime lead, never looking back en route to 68-48 win before a crowd of 8,514 at the KFC Yum! Center. Standing alone atop the ACC standings with a conference record of 15-2 this time around. The Cardinals shared the title with Notre Dame the past two seasons.

  • Kylee Shook continuing the rapid improvement evidenced in her last few games. Still another double-double, with a game-leading 18 points and 10 rebounds. Also credit her with an assist to go with two blocks and two steals.
  • Jazmine Jones, bringing extra levels of enthusiasm in this one, her sole focus on winning a conference championship, scoring 17 points, with three assists and three blocks.
  • Yacine Diop, making things happen when things had to happen, scoring 17 points, grabbing four rebounds and two assists. Reaching her considerable potential at just the right time.
  • Last but certainly not least. Mykasa Robinson standing in for Dana Evans at point guard, keeping that well-oiled offense running smoothly. Adding seven points while making five assists, three steals and a block

The win improving UofL’s overall record to 26-3. The final home game is Sunday at Noon, designated as Senior Day to honor the seniors, having contributed to 123 wins over the past four seasons.

Williams goes down, Louisville basketball goes south

One knew immediately the University of Louisville basketball team was in trouble when Malik Williams rolled his ankle two minutes and 29 seconds into the game. He realized it as well, hopping around to avoid the pain, heading directly to the locker room.

Leadership lacking when injuries again sideline Malik Williams (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Williams, a UofL captain, is the closest thing to a genuine floor leader this team has. He leads by example, finally playing up to his potential in recent games, and his teammates respect and listen to him.

Tears running down his face as he returns to the bench. Uh oh.

Immediate outlook terrible — for him or his team in a road game against Florida State.  A game helping to decide the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular season. Would UofL win a conference title only five years after joining the ACC?

No. No way. Florida State would outscore Louisville 46 to 12 to close out the game, rolling to an 82-67 romp before 11,500 screaming partisans at Tallahassee. The Cardinals never had a chance in that that second half for numerous reasons:

    • No post presence, not with Williams stuck on the bench, and Steven Enoch, recovering from an ankle injury himself, unable to contribute offensively or to stop anyone defensively.
    • Shell shock again for Jordan Nwora. The all too familiar look on his face when things have gone sour for him. Unable to make a basket, dribble the ball, or make a decent pass when adversity strikes.
    • Florida State getting automatic fouls on UofL every time the Seminoles attack the basket. Apparently irrelevant to the officials who is initiating the contact. 
    • David Johnson in early foul trouble again. Unable to hit free throws, complete passes. Turning the ball over six times.
    • Ryan McMahon going cold after hitting three 3-pointers in the first half. Unable to find or create space for himself.
  •  
    • Lamar “Fresh” Kimble dribbling. So much dribbling. Running circles around Florida State, all to no avail. Overlooking wide open teammates at times.
  • All of these deficiencies getting worse, intensifying the longer Williams is confined to the bench. The Cardinals had lost their leader. Just a matter of time before Florida State catches up with them and delivers the crushing blows.

UofL follows Williams’ lead, blows past North Carolina

Malik Williams for two of his 17 points — Mike DeZarn photo

Samuell Williamson shows the form that will make him a breakout player for Louisville in the not-too-distant future. He had five points against North Carolina (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

So encouraging to see Malik Williams getting better, realizing his potential, with each game as the University of Louisville basketball team enters the home stretch. The uncertainty, the awkwardness, the inability to finish shots, all behind him on Saturday.

The 6-foot-10 junior, who has been described by teammate David Johnson as the team’s alpha dog, urging greater effort from fellow players in recent days, doing everything he can to provide extra motivation. Demanding, expecting, raising expectations.

Peyton Siva, Sr. was among the 21,076 fans enjoying every minute of the latest win over North Carolina (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

No one in the crowd of 21,076 at the KFC Yum! Center could deny that he had not exceeded their expectations, and maybe his, in Louisville’s 72-55 win over North Carolina on Saturday.

It was the Cardinals’ 23rd win of the season against five losses, and the 14th win in 17 starts in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Good for a half game lead over Florida State in the ACC.

Williams, growing out of some of the uncertainty and awkwardness around the basket, going up with authority, finishing with regularity in the latest outing. More than 31 minutes of action, with little relief from Steven Enoch with the sore ankle, relishing every minute of playing time .

“Malik means a lot to our team,” said UofL Coach Chris Mack. “Not just the statistics, which continue to get better offensively and defensively. His presence on the defensive end. He’s put in a lot of work. His teammates respect the heck out of him and he’s one of the best bigs in our league.”

Consistency and leadership abounding. Williams would, in fact, make seven of 10 shots around the basket and one of two 3-point shots for 17 points.  He would also pull down nine rebounds, including four on the offensive board, block one shot and make two assists. 

He would also get plenty of help on the boards, with teammates Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton claiming 11 and nine rebounds, respectively. Nwora, with his fifth double-double this season, leading all scorers with 18 points. He was also praising Williams after the game.

“He’s been a great captain,” said Nwora. “He brings a lot of leadership and energy. Leading us every day. And me.”

Williams’ desire to see his fellow players get better, combined with his personal improvement, makes him an even more effective leader.

A future Cardinal getting immersed in the UofL basketball tradition (MIke DeZarn photo).

Louisville basketball resurfaces against Syracuse

 ^^ Jordan Nwora gets emotional – Cindy Rice Shelton photo ^^

A good time for Ryan McMahon to find his shot from beyond the arc, hitting four of 10 three-point attempts against Syracuse (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Jim Boeheim is called for a technical foul in the second half on still another disappointing trip to Louisville (Mike DeZarn photo).

That’s more like it, a University of Louisville basketball team looking like a world beater. Fresh from a players-only meeting, some new faces in the starting lineup, a team looking for a new start after two straight losses.

Nobody keeps any records but players-only meetings have had mixed results over the decades, unpredictable, some making things worse, others making little if any difference, and a few actually leading to significant improvement. Card Nation held its collective breath at tip off for the Syracuse game.

Malik Williams making good on this dunk attempt on a night when he contributed 14 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Always good when the first shot, especially a 3-point attempt, goes in, this one from Dwayne Sutton, the Cardinals jumping off to a 17-8 lead before the Syracuse players knew what hit them. Louisville would be coasting at the end in a 90-66 win, improving its record to 22-5 overall before a crowd of 16,428 at the KFC Yum! Center.

David Johnson, one of those new faces in the lineup, a one-man wrecking crew for the Syracuse zone. Finding open shooters almost at will from the free throw line, he would wind up with seven assists for the night. Could have had at least five to six more if his teammates had been able to finish on dunk attempts. Johnson would score only three points but he had done the damage.

No place for doom and gloom in this game, with Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora and David Johnson rising to a new level (Mike DeZarn photo).

The other face, in and out of the starting lineup this season, was Ryan McMahon. Finding the 3-point shooting touch that eluded him last week,  he would make four of 10 attempts and wind up with 13 points. Equally important, he would  be credited with four assists. Louisville would, in fact, have 23 assists, compared to only 11 for the visitors.

Jordan Nwora not getting off to a great start, missing his first two shots, but not allowing it to affect his overall game. One of his best all-around games maybe, actually making seven rebounds and three assists while making only one turnover. He would lead all scorers with 17 points.

Sutton all in with the fresh team approach, never out from the start. He would be good for eight rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal to go with his 16 points. Malik Williams unable to finish on numerous dunk attempts but pulling down 13 rebounds and adding 14 points.

One team meeting obviously yielding some positive results, at least for one game. Four more games would be nice, that’s all that’s left in the regular season.

Homecoming NIght for former Louisville standout Montrezl Harrell and his family at the Yum! Center. Harrell is currently with the Los Angeles Clippers. (Mike DeZarn photo).