Familiar sinking feeling for Louisville basketball

Photos by Cindy Rice Shelton

Interesting how quickly things started to go downhill after the University of Louisville basketball team rose to become the No. 1 team early this season. Jumping out to a 9-0 record, utilizing primarily the same players from an unranked team last season.

Jordan Nwora back to a familiar role, doing most of the scoring for the University of Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Seems like a long time but little more than a month ago. The lofty ranking more than a little premature, as Coach Chris Mack indicated at the time. With their 78-65 loss to Florida State at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, the Cardinals have lost three of their past five games.

Ranked seventh going into the game, Louisville will be out of the top 10 next week, possibly headed back to obscurity again. Few signs of any progress since being exposed by Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden. No bouncing back after the annual loss to Kentucky.

David Johnson with 19 minutes of playing time a hopeful sign for UofL (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Before the season began, UofL was predicted to be a top five team, largely based on having one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Once a starter, five-start recruit Samuell Williamson saw less than eight minutes of playing time on Saturday, claiming a rebound but not scoring a point.

Highly acclaimed freshman guard David Johnson, who missed several games due to injury, actually played 19 minutes. He had four points and three assists but with three turnovers. Freshmen Josh Nickelberry and Aiden Igiehon seeing less than two minutes. Fifth-year transfer Lamarr Kimble contributed six points, three assists and three turnovers.

Familiar scenario elsewhere with Jordan Nwora scoring most of UofL’s points, a total of 32 points in this one. But Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch, Darius Perry, Ryan McMahon and Malik Williams adding a combined 23 points. On defense, allowing Florida State to hit 55% of their field goal attempts.

The rise to the top, occurring as quickly as it did, may have been the worst possible scenarios for a team that needed to improve dramatically from last season. Taking success for granted, not needing much effort to get national recognition, lacking significant motivation to work harder, to get better. 

The veterans, including Nwora, are exhibiting many of the same weaknesses from a year ago. Making many of the same mistakes, inconsistent on offense and defense, still overly dependent on Nwora. The freshmen, languishing on the bench thus far, needing experience. Going to have to get better the hard way, against the best that the Atlantic Coast Conference has to offer.

The leadership is going to have to come from the freshmen if it is to happen, but that scenario would appear to be unlikely — at least at this point in the season.

One of the few highlights for Louisville fans was the introduction of former UofL great Russ Smith (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Merry Christmas, bring on the holidays for UofL fans

Reflecting the spirit of the season at a UofL basketball game with his elf cap is Sutton Wyatt, the 6-year-old son of Jason and Lori Wyatt. The family has had season tickets for 10 seasons (Photos by Mike DeZarn).

Shopping done, the gifts are wrapped, so we are switching into Christmas mode, fully immersing ourselves in the holiday season.

Every sport at the University of Louisville with an attraction all its own, the fans forever faithful in the pursuit of wins with each new challenge. UofL providing dreams for youngsters old and young, diversions from the rigors, and all the other ups and downs of everyday life.

All those new faces in key positions — Neeli Bendapudi, Vince Tyra, Chris Mack, Scott Satterfield, Dani Busboom Kelly, and John Michael Hayden — exceeding expectations. Dan McDonnell and Jeff Walz maintaining unprecedented success, still aiming higher.

Much to be thankful for, knowing the challenges have made us stronger, the issues will be resolved and the university has so much more to achieve. 

Thanks for being Louisville fans. The Observer appreciates your support of Card Game.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

UofL fans have to prioritize with overlapping, packed schedules

More than a few future Cardinals turning out for University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball games over the weekend (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

College basketball is back en masse for University of Louisville fans even though November has yet to reach the halfway point.  Competing head on with college and pro football  just weeks into their seasons.

Some complaints about attendance following the UofL men’s 78-55 win over Youngstown State on Sunday, a game that attracted 14,761 people at the KFC Yum! Center.  Not to worry, still the best attended game among more than half a dozen games in college basketball on Sunday.

Lamar Jackson was the main attraction at the Baltimore Ravens game at Cincinnati on Sunday (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

What the belly-achers weren’t taking into consideration was the fact that former UofL quarterback Lamar Jackson was leading the Baltimore Ravens to a 49-13 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati. The NFL game started an hour before the basketball game, and attracted hundreds if not thousands of UofL fans, with many more watching on TV at home.

Jackson expressing his appreciation to all of the Louisville people making the trek, many of them decked out in red UofL football jerseys or purple Ravens’ jerseys. Like a homecoming for Jackson, coming to Cincinnati and seeing all those Cardinal fans.

“I think we had half a city of Louisville in the stadium,” said Ravens Coach John Harbaugh.

An unforgettable day on the field, too, with Lamar Jackson throwing for three touchdowns in a near-perfect passing performance and adding a legendary 47-yard scoring run that will be added to the all-time NFL highlights reel.

The UofL women improving their record to 2-0 start with a 76-40 win over Murray State before 7,992 fans for a 76-40 win over Murray State. Jeff Walz still looking for the right combinations, getting 14 point and 13 point performances from Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Louisville football team getting its ass handed to it in a 52-27 loss at Miami. The Cardinals gaining the Hurricanes offensively 496 to 449 yards but unable to defend a freshman quarterback. Getting burned on a school-record six touchdown passes.

Louisville athletics demanding our attention with a crowded schedule, only so much of us to go around.  Men’s and women’s games overlapping at times. Enough with the attendance gripes, please.

Gallery courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton

Muhammad Ali inspired fellow University of Louisville fans

muhammed-ali-quote-on-fitness-observatoryMuhammad Ali attended many University of Louisville athletic events over the years, always a UofL fan, always an inspiration to his fellow fans.

Back in the early nineties, a standing ovation at Fairgrounds Stadium when he was introduced, 36,000 voices proclaiming “Ali! Ali! Ali!” Even Tennessee football fans that night were joining the chorus.

Ali was on the 50-yard line at the 2007 BCS Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida for the UofL-Wake Forest game. The biggest game in UofL football history, he had to be there, joining the 35,000 fans from Louisville making the trip.

When Asaad Ali, his adopted son, was playing for the UofL baseball team in 2010 and 2011, Muhammad was a frequent visitor to Jim Patterson Stadium, joining Tom Jurich in the hospitality suite, even making financial contributions to the Louisville baseball program.

Jurich issued the following statement after Ali’s death:

“All of us in the Cardinal Athletics family are deeply, deeply saddened with the passing of an absolute worldwide legend in Muhammad. While he was undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes in history, the Champ made a difference in the lives of so many around the world.

“His generosity with his time for anything we asked of him — or things he offered to do without us asking — was incredible, as was the financial commitment he and Lonnie made to our baseball program at UofL.  It was a true honor for me to know him and he will be greatly missed.  Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to Lonnie and the entire family.”

Coach Rick Pitino joined in commemorating Ali:

“All of Louisville celebrates the life of our Champion.  “He shined brightest in the ring and preached peace outside of it.  He loved babies, people and cherished his friends.  We will miss you Champ.  Rest in Peace.”

This UofL fan will never forget the time his family bumped into the Champ at a Kentucky Derby breakfast in Frankfort, Muhammad Ali pulling my 4-year-old son from my arms, lifting him high and placing a kiss on his cheek. Remember thinking, “The most famous person in the world, that man.”

Always reaching out, engaging and absorbing, Muhammad Ali making people feel better about themselves and the world.

Jurich legacy goes on at Louisville

Tom Jurich has put to rest any speculation that he would entertain any overtures to succeed Steve Patterson as athletic director at the University of Texas.  He told a local radio show Thursday he doesn’t want to leave the University of Louisville.

While Jurich’s decision comes as no surprise, this latest confirmation of his affection provides reassurance to fans and supporters that the UofL athletic department will continue to benefit from his dynamic and creative leadership into the future.

Tom and Terrilynn Jurich not going anywhere.
Tom and Terrilynn Jurich not going anywhere.

One remembers wondering when Jurich was hired in the summer of 1997 just what kind of impact a new athletic director could have at UofL. I believed at the time that the position was largely administrative, hiring and firing personnel, developing schedules, maintaining facilities, in effect managing the status quo.

UofL was in Conference USA at the time. Denny Crum’s basketball program was in decline, as was Freedom Hall. Ron Cooper’s football program was spiraling, the last season at Fairgrounds Stadium. Lelo Prado’s baseball program was struggling to hit the .500 level in wins and losses, also competing at Fairgrounds Stadium. Women’s basketball was competing in a 1,200 seat gymnasium on Belknap Campus, undergoing coaching changes every few years. No one was giving a second thought to soccer, volleyball, swimming or softball.

Things quickly began to change because Tom Jurich brought with him the vision and energy of developing a first class athletic program in every respect. Now almost every sport plays in modern facilities, with their own dedicated fan followings and they are competitive on a national basis. They receive strong support from the university, the facilities are constantly being improved or upgraded and the teams land highly rated recruits. The question always lingers, which UofL team will be the next to win a national championship?

Why would Tom Jurich want to leave all that? He’s not content to be a caretaker at another major university. He wants to continue building the University of Louisville, always raising that vision of his to new and unprecedented levels.