Louisville tears before and after win over Georgia Tech

So many tears before and after the game, coaches, players, parents, spouses, girl friends and fans. The final game on the home schedule, time to bid farewell to a special group of players, Senior Night has arrived.

Time to really say goodbye to Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and Dillon Avare. The end of an abbreviated season but one road game away. No NCAA basketball tournament, no ACC tournament, end of the road.

Damion Lee gets a commemorative ball from Rick Pitino for reaching the 2,000 point plateau.
Damion Lee gets a commemorative ball from Rick Pitino after reaching the 2,000 point plateau.

Still much to celebrate for a team that had such low expectations entering the 2015-16 season, so few point-makers returning from last season, picked to finish seventh in the conference, no among the top 45 nationally. The University of Louisville is ranked No. 11 in the country with a 23-7 record and is a half game out of first place in the ACC with a 12-5 conference mark.

Georgia Tech was not impressed, wanting to leave a lasting impression before the 22,043 fans at the KFC Yum! Center, wanting to spoil the farewell party. The lead would change hands eight times before Damion Lee would collect his 2,000th collegiate point on a 3-pointer, giving his team a 37-34 lead, putting UofL ahead to stay.

Louisville would extend its lead to nine points at one point but then went scoreless for five minutes, giving Georgia Tech a second life.

Time for some heroics from Chinanu Onuaku, who could conceivably be in the NBA next season if it’s true the NBA drafts on potential. Stepping to the line with that granny delivery of his, sinking two free throws, capping a night on which he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

Damion Lee would need to sink two more to ice the game, giving UofL the 56-53 win, salvaging a happy ending and sparring everyone in attendance of many more tears had things gone south.

Jaylen Johnson in the clutch, Louisville edges Duke

Life in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so many challenges, so many opportunities, the wins so rewarding.

There are sometimes unexpected moments in big games that confirm things are going to turn out okay for the University of Louisville basketball team. The big one against Duke coming at the 6:04 mark, Chinanu Onuaku finding teammate Jaylen Johnson beneath the basket.

One moment in time arrives for Jaylen Johnson.
One moment in time arrives for Jaylen Johnson.

All alone, no time to think, just react, Johnson instinctively slamming it through the net. A surprising pass from an unexpected source to the most unlikely player at just the right moment. Uofl claiming a 58-55 lead, seizing the momentum, going on to claim a 74-61 win over Duke.

Damion Lee finding his range in the seconds leading up to that moment, finding it in a game against a major opponent, and coming with the game on the line. Making good on three of seven 3-point attempts, two leading up to the Johnson dunk,the third second afterwards, giving Louisville a four-point lead. Damion Lee winding up with a team-high 24 points.

Johnson would have a couple of other moments, including a wide-open jumper seconds later and two of two free throws in the final minute or so. As if he wanted to settle any arguments about why Rick Pitino still has him in  the game at crunch time.

Not to neglect Trey Lewis, with one of his better games, Louisville needed everything he could contribute for 31 minutes. Coming through with five assists, one steal, eight points and zero turnovers. Earning every minute of that extra playing time.

Deng Adel taking his a game to another level, putting the clamps on Duke’s Brandon Ingram late in the game. Playing with confidence, making good on five of seven field goal attempts, including one of three 3-pointers. Winding up with 12 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Actually an incredible showing by Due, essentially playing with six players, giving UofL all it could handle for about 39 minutes. Grayson Allen collecting 29 points in an individual performance that goes down with the best ever at the KFC Yum! Center.  Give Duke a couple of more players and the Blue Devils could make a run in March.

Louisville basketball teetering with six games to go


A couple of weeks ago it was possible to envision a magical ending for the University of Louisville basketball team this season. My, how the outlook has changed, making it easy to expect a near collapse with six games to go.

The Cardinals were sailing with a 18-3 record, 6-1 in the conference, and on a four-game winning streak. Then came the baffling 16-point loss to Virginia at home, followed by a six-point win over North Carolina. Back on track, anything still possible. Then there was the bleak Friday afternoon when the UofL administration announced the self-imposed ban on post season play.

Rick Pitino saying the absence of post-season play making the remaining nine games much more important, providing extra motivation, trying to have fun, needing to finish strong. That doesn’t seem to be working out with the Cardinals having lost two winnable games out of the past three.

The magic has dissipated, replaced by something resembling a process of simply going through the motions. Fortunate to still be hanging around at the end of games. Six more to go under a dark cloud, each a major challenge in this atmosphere.

The latest loss a 71-66 decision to Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, Louisville bowing after owning an 11-point lead with 15 minutes remaining in the game. Problem was the Cardinals could only manage three more field goals over that span.

— Damion Lee, with three 3-pointers in the first half, unable to hit another until the game was all but out of reach with 16 seconds remaining. Gets his share of points, 13 against Notre Dame, but those dreams of his, of hitting winning shots against major opponents have yet to come to fruition.

— Trey Lewis picked up 11 points. Has yet to exhibit any ability to take over a game, the leadership lacking, the distance between Cleveland State and Louisville becoming too much to overcome.

— Chinanu Onuaku draws a lot of raves from the analysts and some fans expecting him to be headed to the NBA after this season. But he still lacks the ability to stay out of foul trouble, catch a pass from his teammates, and makes making an easy layup really difficult.

Onuaku is the starting center for a good reason but he rarely proves it. He has come a long way, but he is not even close to arriving.

— Quentin Snider not making many turnovers but he’s not capable of making those Russ Smith or Peyton Siva moves under the basket. Frustrating for him, frustrating for his fans.

— There was that blocked shot and subsequent dunk by Matz Stockman to end the first half, but Matz would not return. Thanks for the bright spot, Matz.

One could go on but this observer doesn’t want to add to the negativity. There will be more than enough of that in the days, weeks and months ahead.

As for this season, things had better get better quickly. Maybe a relief when it does end and what may have been a mirage or a crazy dream becomes a tarnished memory.

Prime time for Damion Lee, Louisville nails North Carolina

The images that will linger from the University of Louisville basketball team’s 71-65 win over North Carolina are those of Damion Lee knocking down those three-point shots.

Was this what the Las Vegas oddsmakers envisioned when they made UofL a two-point favorite over the nation’s second-ranked team? Not logical, not mathematically possible, or very likely for a team that looked so disjointed Saturday in a 16-point loss on Saturday.

Damion Lee back where he needs to be.
Damion Lee back where he needs to be against North Carolna.

The gaming wizards are familiar with Rick Pitino’s pedigree, cognizant of UofL’s rich tradition, and they, more than anyone, know that anything can happen in college basketball this season. Why not just make Louisville a two-point favorite? Yeah, that made a lot of sense.

None of that mattered to Damion Lee. This was where he wanted to be in the spotlight, prime time, against North Carolina, 22,781 Cardinal fans fully engaged from beginning to end.

Right on cue, there he was, Damion Lee back in his groove. One, two, three, four 3-pointers from a player who was lost in the wilderness two days ago. He would score 22 of his 24 points before North Carolina all but shut him down at the 9:35 mark. He would collect his final two on game-clinching free throws with eight seconds to go.

Trey Lewis — When Lee cooled down, his fellow transfer would take stock, control his emotions and take over from that point, except for one slip and a turnover that would enable North Carolina to keep it close. Lewis would score eight of his nine points, in the final seven minutes. Fully in control, sinking those two free throws near the end.

Chinanu Onuaku — The big guy is still unpredictable, spinning back and forth between regression and progress every other play. Still lacking full control over his body, he’s too unpredictable for officials when he’s bouncing around. He makes the easy look hard so when he makes a good move he shocks his most loyal fans. Onuaku back in the double-double category again with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Stay well, Chinanu.

Anas Mahmoud — The look on his face says he’s just about got this basketball game figured out. The problem still is that his body has yet to catch up with his smarts. That behind-the-back pass to Damion Lee in the first half, a move that had Pitino wondering whether seeing was believing, needing Ralph Willard to confirm what had just happened.

Donovan Mitchell — Brings a level-headed approach to the game, along with occasional bursts of energy, which if he can manage better, will make him an All America candidate before he leaves UofL. Good for 10 points and five rebounds.

Ray Spalding — One never knows what he’s going to do next, throwing up all kinds of shots, a couple of them finding their way through the net. A little more self control and he could work some wonders. Gotta quit flailing, control himself, collecting too many fouls, four in this one.

Not an upset, this win, not when Las Vegas has made you the favorite. Certainly surprising after a miserable performance on Saturday. Definitely the best win yet, a harbinger of more to come this season.

Meanwhile, check out these audio highlights from Paul Rogers.

Damion Lee, Trey Lewis are back, Louisville dispatches Va. Tech

The last place anyone expected the University of Louisville to knock down 12 of 18 three-point attempts would have been at Cassell Coliseum in southwest Virginia. Couldn’t have happened at a better place, UofL would need almost every one of them to outlast Virginia Tech 91-83.

One of those seasons when one never knows which UofL player is going to take over a game. A different player or combination of players every game. A healthy indicator for any team that wants to be among the serious contenders in March on a team coached by Rick Pitino.

No better time for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to reassert themselves as the leaders on this team, the two post-graduate scholars conducting a shooting clinic. Most of the three-point baskets seeming to come when Virginia Tech had come within striking distance, the Hokies refusing to roll over time after time. Scratching and clawing their way back in the game down to the final 20 seconds.

So much for Chinanu Onuaku’s six straight double-double games. The Hokies got him in foul trouble early, just as Pitino had predicted they would. Any time a Virginia Tech player got close to Onuaku, the whistles were instantaneous, as if there were some sort of bounty to be collected.

Anas Mahmoud came back down to earth in this game, managing only four points. Give Mahmoud credit, however, for three early blocks that put an end to Virginia Tech’s early dominance. The Hokies raced out to a 20-12 lead before Mahmoud started plugging up the middle. He would have some defensive lapses later, but he helped his team turn a crucial corner.

As well as Damion Lee and Trey Lewis were playing, Louisville also had to have Jaylen Johnson’s best game in a Louisville uniform. Johnson would score 11 points, including one 3-pointer, and he have nine rebounds, three assists and a block. Fortunately, he was able to return to the floor after twisting his elbow backwards near the end of the game.

Damion Lee would hit six of seven three-points attempts and 11 of 12 free throw attempts to lead all scorers with 29 points. Trey Lewis would score 20 of his 22 points, including all four of his three-pointers, in the second half.

With the win, Louisville moves to 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Next up is Virginia on Saturday, and North Carolina on Monday. Going to be fun seeing who emerges in those games.