U of L not taking Michigan State lightly this time around

Another showdown with Michigan State in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The University of Louisville should never have lost to the Spartans during the 2009 meeting, not with two first-round draft choices. But that U of L team may have been way too confident coming off of a 103-64 drubbing of Arizona two days earlier.  Remember Terrence Williams dancing on the sidelines? Edgar Sosa making faces at the TV audience?

T-Will as much as admitted on a telecast during an exhibition game in the Bahamas last summer that he and Rick Pitino had some issues going into the Elite 8 game against Michigan State, affecting preparations. Earl Clark, the other draft pick, was never a great ball handler, passer, shooter or dribbler. Edgar Sosa’s challenges were well-chronicled.

Ranked No. 1 at the end of the season, with the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Small wonder they were cocky. They had already arrived in their minds, a Final Four was inevitable.

Members of the current U of L basketball team, however, have had to grind it out, battle almost every minute of every game to get where it is. No great expectations despite a six-game winning streak. Paying attention to the coach, spending hours watching film, memorizing the scouting reports, taking no one lightly.

But the crucial difference is these U of L players are not living on their reputation. Rather, they are focused on improvement, recognizing they can get better. The improvement has been most obvious with players like Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng but even Russ Smith, though still unpredictable at times, is a much different player than he was in December.

Whether these factors will be enough to return the favor to Michigan State remains to be seen. One thing for certain, however, is that this UofL team will be in the game at the end, still trying to get better.

A New Samardo Samuels Leads Louisville

Something magical happened with Samardo Samuels a few games back. A flash of light. An awakening. A whole new outlook. Different approach to the game.

Going from being clumsy and awkward, unable to catch a pass, letting other bigger guys have their way with him, and unable to make a contested shot to …

To a Samardo Samuels, who is confident, self-assured, aggressive and driven, not backing down to anyone anymore, knowing how to score, determined to make things happen. No longer out there just marking time or taking up space, he has found purpose and desire.

The University of Louisville defeated Notre Dame 91-89 in two overtimes riding on the shoulders of Samardo Samuels. Bruised and battered, he was just too much for FOUR defenders fouling out in their efforts to slow him down.

And guess who blocked the final Notre Dame shot?

An epic performance by Samardo Samuels, with a career high 36 points, including 16 or 19 free throw attempts, refusing to wilt during his 46 minutes of playing time. He is a changed man and every player on this team knows he’s the man.

Yes, he has absorbed an infinitesimal number of Rick Pitino motivational speeches. Nodding yes, yes, yes, uh huh, okay.

But it wasn’t until Samardo Samuels looked deep within himself that a turnaround began a few weeks ago, finding a big heart and an abundance of fortitude and determination, resulting in a new and overwhelming desire to win. The outlook for University of Louisville basketball changed with him.

Notre Dame-Louisville Box Score

Like Louisville Can Still Get Ticket Punched

Here goes an exercise in futility.

For the University of Louisville basketball team to get to the NCAA tournament, some unlikely things will  have to occur, including some unbelievable breaks over the next three weeks or so. Meanwhile, here’s a few suggestions:

  • Samardo Samuels — Quit being nice. Shock teammates, get in their faces, demand intensity and toughness. Transform that permanent look of disappointment into a scowl. That seems to be what gets attention these days.
  • Terrence Jennings — Wise up, get serious in practice, learn the offense, know what a rebound is, guard someone, admit it’s not cool looking lost. Otherwise, quit wasting the scholarship
  • Edgar Sosa — Pick up where he left off before the St. John’s loss, remembering why he wasn’t in the last five minutes of that embarrassment — not finding his teammates, not making clean passes, not protecting the ball.
  • Jerry Smith — Return to being a long-range shooter, convince himself he’s not in a permanent slump. Time is short, playing days almost over.
  • Jared Swopshire — Show some kind of emotion — happy, sad, even bored will do, proving he’s not a robot. Looks mechanical whether he’s shooting a free throw, rolling around in a scuffle or diving for a loose ball.
  • Preston Knowles — Take care of the ball, go back to being fearless.
  • Peyton Siva — Take more of those NBA-range three-point shots, being careful with the passes.
  • Rick Pitino — Figure out which of the seven or eight players are most effective. Get past the experimentation and mind-playing games. Constantly changing the formula not good science or good for team chemistry.

Heady Stuff, A Win Over UConn

Just when one has filed a University of Louisville basketball player in the marginal to wasted category, Rick Pitino does his thing, getting inside the player’s head, pointing out the obvious, showing him ways to get better, making him a contributor.

Yes, sometimes Pitino must go back to the well many times, taking a while for a player to grasp the obvious. He knows the players better than they do, so he often has to introduce and educate them about themselves.

  • Who would have believed three weeks ago that Samardo Samuels would ever get the post-up move down so well, consistently connecting on hook shots or becoming a reliable rebounder. And how about the recent emotion, the smiles, even laughter from the shy one, and the swagger. Samuels is all in, believing in himself.
  • Too soon to know whether Jerry Smith of the UConn game is the new one. He’s the last player one expects to be dribble driving, being an offensive force, with few vestiges of his three-point prowess remaining. Pitino says the three-point drought has made him a better player.
  • Edgar Sosa’s tears after the Pittsburgh game may have had something to do with the decisions against UConn, finding his teammates with eight assists while hitting six of nine shots himself. More than enough points to go around, and he’s much happier.
  • Terrence Jennings is still way behind on the learning curve but those blocked shots always seem to come at the right time. Pitino says he will be a very good basketball player. Trust him.
  • Reginald Delk is enjoying the game, now that he’s more than a spot shooter, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal to go with his 10 points.
  • Credit one Stephen Van Treese with some valuable relief work during his six minutes in the first half, getting schooled by the UConn big men, collecting three fouls destined for Samuels or Jennings.
  • You can bet that Pitino is focused on Jared Swopshire, the player who hit the three-point shot from the corner but thinks too much and leaves other shooters open too often. Pitino is on the case.

Louisville-West Virginia Not Child’s Play

By Tom Stosberg

Anybody got some extra flak jackets Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings could borrow for a couple of hours? They promise to give them right back after Saturday.

One of those puny WWE smackdowns will seem like an afternoon in a church library compared to the Louisville-West Virginia basketball game at the cleverly named West Virginia University Coliseum.

About six years ago they put a new roof on the coliseum. Sorry. It’s coming off this weekend.

Sam Sam and T.J. will have their hands full banging with WVU’s biggies. The Mountaineers are led by DeSean Butler, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound senior averaging 16 points and 6.4 rebounds. He’s accompanied by a couple of sophomores who play like upperclassmen – 6-foot-9 Devin Ebanks and 6-foot-8 Kevin Jones, who are averaging 11.3 and 14.9 points, respectively, while pulling down eight rebounds apiece.

Oh, and their guys all have played a minimum of 30 minutes per game. So they know how to play together very well. I repeat, the two youngsters play like veterans.

The guards know how to find these guys. When sweet and lovable Bobby Huggins isn’t helping old ladies across the street, he’s teaching these studs how to block out under the basket.

Bring ‘em on. This just could be the game that our bigs get ticked off and tear down the backboards! Hope so. Go get ‘em, Cards!