Pitino worries about ‘mental’ aspects as Louisville bows out of ACC tourney


The college basketball season starts to get old when one’s team has lost three out of its last five games. Reeling as the March Madness nears, looking more and more like a premature exit is possible.

But there was Coach Rick Pitino saying he believed the University of Louisville could have won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this time around. “I’m heartbroken we lost today,” he said after UofL’s 81-77 loss to Duke in a quarterfinal game.

“I really felt like we could win this weekend,” he said. “We could have won by 10 or 15 tonight if we had hit our free throws and done the little things. This team gives a lot of effort, has great heart but mentally they’re just not what they need to be.”

Pitino cited UofL’s final offensive play as an example, with players out of position on a play that his team runs every day in practice. Maybe he’s just being kind when he refers to the “mental” aspects of the game.

One of Deng Adel’s better games with 21 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Another horrid day at the free throw line with the Cardinals making only 15 of 26 attempts, many of them on the front end of one-and-one situations. The coach flinches at suggestions that his team doesn’t practice free throw shooting enough.

“We practice on free throws more than anyone,” he said. “We try not to talk about them too much because it can become a psychological thing.”

Another frustrating game for Donovan Mitchell, a first-team ACC player, who never seemed to get started. He managed three points in the first half and wound up with only eight for the game.

If there was a bright spot, it was the play of Deng Adel, showing a newfound ability to get through traffic to the basket. He would make seven of 14 field goal attempts, including two of six from behind the 3-point line, for a team-leading 21 points. Notably, he would also make five of six free-throws.

UofL has been down before heading into NCAA tournament play, only to turn things around, often exceeding expectations. But Rick Pitino seems to be admitting he has some extra concerns about this year’s team. He may be running out of time getting the answers he seeks.

Duke slows game down, denying UofL style points

Too much talk all week long about that 35-point spread, and from people who should know better. Just a matter of how much and how long Lamar Jackson would stay in the game.

Players hear that kind of talk from analysts and fans, they absorb it, believe it, don’t put in as much effort in practice.  Come game time they’ve already chalked the game up as a win, easing up on the intensity, lacking respect for the opponent.

Friday night crowd of 55,121 hung around until to the end.
Friday night crowd of 55,121 hung around until to the end.

The ambivalence probably cost the Cardinals in terms of respect in front of a national TV audience on ESPN. No style points whatsoever in the speculation race for one of the four playoff spots at season’s end.

The game was still on the line at the two minute mark in the fourth quarter with the University of Louisville clinging to a 17-14 lead, with visions of a possible collapse hanging over the crowd of 55,121 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Had Duke not committed a roughing-the-kicker penalty following an ugly Evan O’Hara 46-yard field goal attempt, the outcome could have much different, especially given the way the Blue Devils were moving the ball. The penalty gave Louisville the ball on the Duke 14 and Lamar Jackson would scored a two-yard touchdown two plays later to give UofL a 24-14 win.

Employing a brilliant ball control game, Duke had the ball for 37:12 minutes, almost double time of possession for UofL. As a result, Lamar Jackson almost had to make every play count. Not even close, probably remembered in this one for the passes he didn’t complete to wide open receivers.

Still he would put up some impressive numbers, connecting on 13 of 26 attempts for 181 yards, including a touchdown while rushing for 144 yards, and that game-clinching TD.

Jeremy Smith would give Louisville some breathing room for a while in the third quarter with his 80-yard touchdown. But Duke would reduce the deficit to three points in the fourth quarter, setting up the suspenseful final two minutes.

Another win but the luster is not quite as shiny as it was when the Las Vegas oddsmakers were sizing up Louisville’s prospects for the playoffs just a few days ago.

Duke takes advantage of wobbly Louisville


Coaches insisting the sudden change in the post-season outlook is not having an effect on this University of Louisville basketball team. Like that’s not possible.

Likewise, indicating the players aren’t intimidated by the boisterous atmosphere at Cameron Arena, one of the most cramped facilities in college basketball. A place where students are practically on top of the playing floor, within an outstretched arm’s reach, constantly in vertical motion.

If they say so, but Louisville appeared more than a little disconcerted in the first half and much of the second half in the 72-65 loss. Duke getting better at just the right time? But not that much better.

— Damion Lee throwing up contested shots all game long, making only three of 15 field goal attempts, none from behind the three-point line. This was where he wanted to be, living the dream, hitting three-point shots against Duke at Cameron Arena.  Scratch that dream.

— Chinanu Onuaku still unable to avoid that moving pick that keeps getting him in foul trouble, keeps Rick Pitino shaking his head. Two points, three rebounds, three turnovers and four fouls. Taking two steps forward, slipping on painted lines, resembling himself a year ago. He may be back next season after all.

— Trey Lewis still not ready to take control of a game, much less his emotions. Pitino still wanting to slow him down, Lewis quick and in too big a hurry, not a good combination.

— Donovan Mitchell keeps UofL in games but he’s not in the game at the end of close ones for some reason. Team leading 17 points in this one.

— Raymond Spalding is always going to foul his man on a drive to the basket, especially if the game is close. Any of those projectiles that go in the basket are always a startling bonus.

— Anas Mahmoud is the best defensive weapon UofL has, those long arms of his resembling Spiderman stretchers at times, preventing Duke from putting the game out of reach at times. Still putting his game together, with three blocks, four rebounds but only two points.

— Quentin Snider suffering in comparison with quick point guards from Louisville’s past. Not making a lot of mistakes but not many assists or steals either — two of each against Duke. Did contribute 12 points.

— Jaylen Johnson didn’t get much playing time last season, still playing much like a freshman. Not stopping anybody but himself with his uncertainty around the basket on both ends of the court.

Plenty of time to get better before March rolls around next season.

Duke is making inroads

If it’s not going to be UofL, let it be Duke.

What a nice ending to the 2015 NCAA basketball tournament, with a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference winning it all. Four days ago the outlook for a satisfactory was somewhat bleak.

Hard to pull against Wisconsin, featuring a seven-foot Roger Burkman look-alike, but the Badgers left their mark on the tournament by putting Kentucky on the sidelines. Representing the best in college amateurism, they quickly became beloved in Louisville, .

Despite the mixed feelings, UofL fans had to be pulling for Duke — the still new conference brother and bitterly hated by a rival fan base — making the tournament outcome that much sweeter.

Don’t look now UK fans, but someone is creeping up on you. Kentucky, with many fans already counting their ninth title before the 2015 tournament began, still has eight. Duke now has five.

All’s well that ends well.

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The UofL baseball team shut out Virginia 4-0 Monday, the fourth series sweep in a row over ACC teams. The Cardinals are on top of the Atlantic Division with a 13-1 conference mark and are 24-7 overall. They travel to Duke this weekend for a three-game series.

First, however, comes a rivalry game against Kentucky on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. The rivalry games are usually packed so arrive early.

Louisville women stumble out of gate again, can’t catch Duke

The essence of any scouting report on the University of Louisville women’s basketball team has to be to attack early and often, build as big a lead as possible, and then hang on for dear life because the Cardinals will eventually come to life. Withstanding the first rally is the key.

UofL again appeared to be going through the motions in the opening minutes Monday, this time against Duke, falling behind 11-2, thanks to four turnovers in five offensive segments. Again needing Coach Jeff Walz to call an early timeout to calm them down, get them focused. They would finally get their first field goal on a layup by Mariya Moore around the 14-minute mark.

Sherrone Vails has a decent game.
Sherrone Vails was stellar.

Eleven minutes later, the Cardinals had reduced the deficit to two points, trailing 18-16 with three minutes remaining in the first half. That was as close as they would get, Duke winning 66-58 to knock the Cardinals out of a tie for first place in the conference — and probably out of a top 10 national ranking.

If there was a positive for UofL, it was the surprising play of Sherrone Vails against Duke’s big players, refusing to yield or allow a point during her six minutes in the second half. Two points, two rebounds and an assist did hurt either.

Also had to love the toughness of Emmonnie Henderson, despite her four fouls. She actually had four assists and a couple of steals to go with her four rebounds.

Have to wonder how many more games Shawnta’ Dyer will get the starting nod, after managing zero rebounds and one of four free throw attempts in 12 minutes.

Those slow starts will continue to become more difficult to overcome.