Snider, Mathiang and Deng back but Louisville defense tardy

Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang were back but the offense was sputtering before a late surge for the Unverrsity of Louisville (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

No concern the game does not begin well, Miami jumping out to an 8-0 lead over the University of Louisville. Not to worry, UofL almost back at full strength, with Quentin Snider back, along with Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel. Happy days are here again.

Fortunately for UofL, Jaylen Johnson was around to get the “lunch-pail”buckets, per Rick Pitino (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

That was exactly the kind of mentality that concerned Coach Rick Pitino before the game. “I was afraid of that,” he said afterwards. “We had been overachieving so much. Ninety-five to ninety percent of teams lose this game. Miami was the better basketball team, they totally outplayed us in every phase of the game.”

Indeed. The Hurricanes seemed to be scoring almost at will in the first half. “We let them drive by us on straight-line drives,” added the coach. “We didn’t rebound well, we didn’t shoot well and we didn’t pass well.”

Yet Pitino said the game may have been the best of the year character-wise. “When the game was on the line, we did all of the above,” he said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do on defense.”

Louisville emerged the 71-66 winner after scoring 13 straight points in the second half. The crushing blow, a three-point dagger followed by a free throw from Adel at the 4:22 mark, giving his team a six-point lead and its largest in the game. Adel would make two out of three 3-point attempts, sharing scoring honors with Donovan Mitchell with 18 points.

Snider would need a little time to get going after missing six games with a hip injury. He would miss all three of his shots in the first half, but hit three of five attempts in the second — including a crucial 3-pointer with 41 seconds remaining.

Jaylen Johnson sometimes missing the easy shots but making the impossible ones, delivering what Pitino called a “lunch-pail” effort with 10 points, eight rebounds, a block and a couple of steals. 

Mathiang picking up the slack thankfully as Anas Mahmoud regresses. Anas with three turnovers, zero points and a couple of rebounds while Mangok is collecting seven points and eight rebounds — and three out of four free throw attempts.

The win improves UofL record to 20-5 overall, and 8-4 in the conference, tied for second place before the evening games. Syracuse next, at Syracuse on Monday.

Jaylen Johnson emerges, Louisville rips Evansville 78-49

Jaylen Johnson has gotten a lot of playing time since he was a freshman, much to the puzzlement of some University of Louisville basketball fans. Sometimes wondering how long it would take for Johnson to become an offensive presence.

Coach Rick Pitino sensing something early about the 6-foot-9 junior forward from Ypsilanti, Mich., including his strength and exceptional energy. Giving Johnson all the time necessary to channel that energy, to eliminate the awkward moves, working within the system to become the player Pitino believes Johnson can be.

Johnson is getting closer to being that player if his performance in UofL’s 78-47 win over Evansville on Friday night is any indication. His best game since becoming a Cardinal, he would score a team-high and career-high 19 points.

Stepping up to provide some much-needed leadership on UofL’s front line, Johnson would connect on nine of 11 field goal attempts, including his only 3-point shot, while commandeering 14 rebounds and blocking three Evansville shots.

Johnson loves the fast pace, crediting Pitino’s emphasis on conditioning. “We are  going to play fast,” he said. “Coach tells us if we’re tired, the other team is exhausted.”

He also credited his teammates noting, “They were getting the ball to me at the right time,” he said. “I just thankful to be here, playing for a great coach.  We never know who’s going to have a great night.”

Like Donovan Mitchell, for example, who was almost equally effective and disruptive, scoring 15 points with five rebounds and four steals. And how about Anas Mahmoud, hitting five of five field goal attempts for 10 points while pulling down five rebounds.

A night of highlights for Johnson in this game, the kind of performance that Pitino has been expecting from Johnson since the beginning. Many more to come hopefully.

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 the program of choice for Jaylen Johnson

He is an excellent passer, a serious defender and a good shooter with all kinds of range.

He is Jaylen Johnson, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound power forward from Ypsilanti, Mich., and he is still growing.

Most importantly, he is a University of Louisville Cardinal, having given his commitment to Rick Pitino to be a member of UofL’s 2014 basketball recruiting class. Wants Pitino to make him better.

Keep your eyes on No. 10 in the video: