Anas Mahmoud figuring out this college basketball, Louisville rips Duke

Louisville’s season passed before its eyes when Donovan Mitchell went down with an ankle injury in the second half. He didn’t stay down, returning to help seal the win over Duke (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Anas Mahmoud seems to be figuring out this college basketball thing, embracing it actually, becoming good at it. Just don’t think about turning pro anytime soon. Please.

A couple of weeks ago the University of Louisville basketball team was 0-2 league play, stuck in the basement of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Some fans imagining the worst after losses to Virginia and Notre Dame.

Anas Mahmoud would score 13 of his 17 points in the first half (Cindy Rice Shelton photo)>

Saturday, after their third straight conference win, a 78-69 decision over Duke, the Cardinals were tied for fourth place with Virginia. Back where they rightfully belonged, according to Mahmoud.

“We play more team defense. That shows how great our team is,” said Mahmoud. “As long as we get the ‘W’ that’s all that matters. I think we showed today that we’re as good as everybody.”

Probably meant anybody but who’s to argue with the 7-footer from Egypt. Not a coincidence that UofL’s three-game win streak began a game after Mahmoud returned from missing games with a concussion. He has clearly emerged from the crowd of Louisville big men as the undisputed man in the middle.

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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.

Misplaced loyalty in Louisville

Something to be said for being able to watch the NCAA basketball tournament without a direct stake but with possible consequences in the eventual outcome:

Boring. But also somewhat irritating for Louisville fans, given that the University of Kentucky is still playing.

The one thing U of L fans don’t want to happen in this tournament is for UK to win the thing or, for that matter, the next game. Fans of the Lexington-based school could benefit from lessons on how to handle winning, rubbing it in every chance they get. They are impossible to avoid after a win, difficult to find after a loss.

Just when one thinks the blue fervor has been neutralized or extinguished, UK wins a game or two and their supporters are out in force, thinking they own the town. They live here, walk among us, work with us and enjoy all the local amenities, but their loyalties lie elsewhere.

Go Duke, Kansas, Ohio State. Anybody but Kentucky.

Give The Nod To Duke And Derek

Pulling more for Derek than Nolan? A confusing mix of emotions.

The sentimental favorite is Duke in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, at least for one observer. A couple of reasons, actually.

First, there’s Nolan Smith, the son of Derek Smith, an all-time University of Louisville favorite. Yeah, we hate it that Nolan didn’t pick U of L. Defies logic a son saying he doesn’t want to play in his father’s shadow. Something strange about that. Still, one wants to honor the memory of Derek.

Second, Duke is the team University of Kentucky fans would least like to win an NCAA title after Louisville. A fourth national championship for Duke would be seen as a clear threat to UK’s self-proclaimed preeminence in college basketball.