May be a while before University of Louisville basketball plays another Kentucky team so lacking in talent as was so evident on Saturday. But that’s irrelevant because UofL never posed a serious threat to the Wildcats.
Choose a reason — lack of focus, no consistency, little confidence, an absence of leadership, no visible will to win — any of these qualities were in evidence in a 71-58 loss to Kentucky. No perceived benefit either from the boisterous UofL diehards in the crowd of 20,882 at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.
A UofL team able to connect on only five of 20 three-point field goal attempts. Not much better on close-up attempts, unable to finish, blowing uncontested shots at times. Seemingly content to just hang around, spotting UK 10-point-plus leads, lacking the ability to hit two or three shots in a row.
Credit Coach Chris Mack for keeping his team as close as it was, avoiding a second straight blowout to Kentucky. The offensive schemes were good, the 1-3-1 zone offense could have been effective. But not without booster shots of mental toughness and consistent focus.
If there was a bright spot, it was the play of Christen Cunningham, who almost singlehandedly kept UofL within striking distance in the first half. The 6-foot-2 graduate transfer from Samford University had three of Louisville’s five 3-point shots and a team-leading 20 points.
Jordan Nwora, the team’s leading scorer, accumulated 17 points but teammates Dwayne Sutton and Darius Perry managed only seven points between them. Sutton never took a shot during the first 20 minutes. Ryan McMahon couldn’t possibly get open, winding with two free throws.
Not a blowout at least, but not all that encouraging. Not with UofL hosting Miami next Sunday in the first game of a grueling ACC schedule.
An early wakeup call, a reminder for Louisville fans to keep expectations in check for the rest of the season. Chris Mack’s work has only just begun.
Well, now. Maybe there’s a chance that the problems that have long permeated the NCAA and college basketball will be finally be addressed. The recruiting process has been exposed as ripe with corruption, exposing many of the top programs in the sport.
The cheating has obviously become so ingrained in the system that administrators, coaches, players and fans long ago turned a blind eye to the system, with concerned observers giving up hope that anything would ever be done.
The corruption has gone on for so long and involved so many members that it has become an integral part of collegiate governance.
That all changed last October when the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced numerous arrests, naming names of some players and assistant coaches in connection with illegal payments and fraud. Caught in the process was University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, who would, in fact, be fired two later, along with highly popular Athletic Director Tom Jurich.
UofL fans and supporters were understandably disappointed and angered that two of the most successful people in the school’s history would be singled out for retribution. Especially when it was widely suspected, if not common knowledge, that the University of Kentucky had turned questionable recruiting into a fine art.
One can forgive Louisville fans, whose program was unfairly made the face of the FBI scandal for five months, for a collective sense of exuberance when it became apparent they had lots of company. One caller to a local sports talk said UofL fans were hanging Christmas tree lights all over the downtown, joyful that UK had finally been named in the scandal.
This after the news broke Friday that many other programs and players were involved in illegal financial schemes with professional sports agents, including UK, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State and Villanova, among others.
Many programs already implicated in the cheating. But to date, the FBI has released the records of only one professional agent. Much more to come with an estimated 50 sports agents with links to professional basketball and college recruiting. If the FBI is truly serious about bringing about change, the investigation has only just begun. The hypocrisy of the NCAA with its ignorance of the shady world of college recruiting and its uneven approach to administering punishment to member schools is inexcusable.
The real fear for any basketball program, especially if one has systematically cheated for decades, may be that the new or reformed organization truly wants to make an example of one of the former blue bloods of college basketball. A poster child for bad behavior, if you will.
A continuing avalanche of revelations may finally force the organization to address the problems in an comprehensive and honest approach. One would not be surprised, however, if the organization is beyond repair and will need to be replaced by a new one that bringing a whole new approach to administering college athletics, including compensation for athletes.
A few schools may decide to withhold some athletes who have already been named in allegations, if only to protect their programs against the possibility of vacated wins in the future. Others, having seen what happened at UofL and Notre Dame in cooperating with the NCAA, will fight the organization at every step of the way.
One fears that no punishment will ever be meted out against some of the top programs involved in illegal recruiting. Because there are so many of them, and they do constitute the organization, the NCAA is more like to go into a self-preservation mode, creating changes and bending existing rules to protect the organization and the members involved.
The corruption has gone on for so long and involved so many members that it has become an integral part of collegiate governance. The individuals charged with bringing about change in the NCAA will be, in too many instances, the same people who perpetuated the organization’s problems and are oblivious and resistant to the need for real change.
A couple of local sportswriters, taking advantage of the ultra sensitive relations between the two schools, are trumpeting Kentucky’s Kenny Payne to be a candidate for the University of Louisville’s head basketball coach.
One has no reason to doubt that Payne is a sharp individual with an ability to relate to college basketball players. But he will never be seriously considered as a contender for the UofL job for obvious reasons.
Rick Bozich, of WDRB TV, calls several former UofL players about Payne, including Billy Thompson, Pervis Ellison, Rodney and Scooter McCray, Jerry Eaves and Butch Beard. The results are predictable, all of them wanting Payne to have a shot at the job. What did he expect them to say? Bozich even gets Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, most recently at SMU, to endorse Payne because of his ability to relate to players.
Tim Sullivan, a Courier-Journal columnist, tweets that “More than one high-rolling Louisville fan has told me the Cardinals’ next coach should be Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne.” In another tweet he says that a former UofL trustee (Jonathan Blue) says that Payne “checks all the boxes,” to be Louisville’s next coach.
Nice try, guys, generating lots of conversation and controversy, not to mention clicks. However, the last time we checked, David Padgett, with the exception of a bad loss to UK, has been doing a decent job with a 11-3 record in his first season, albeit as interim head coach. The job is not currently open and may not be unless the season winds up in a total dump heap.
Even more importantly, the last thing UofL basketball needs is to hire another coach from UK. It’s going to take years for UofL to recover from the aftermath of Rick Pitino, a former Kentucky coach, who left under dire circumstances with the program’s reputation badly damaged. Constantly looking to UK for coaches is not a good look for UofL.
Also, with Louisville basketball seeking to earn its way back to respectability, why would the school want to take a chance on an individual tied to a UK program many suspect of questionable recruiting. It is well known that UK has close ties with William Wesley, a powerful influence on college basketball recruiting, and that Wesley and Payne go way back.
Curious that Rick Bozich would contact Larry Brown about Payne when three programs with which Brown has been associated — UCLA, Kansas and SMU — were punished for illegal recruiting practices during his tenure. UK Coach John Calipari, well known for his innovative recruiting practices, has his own bad history, with vacated wins and Final Fours at Massachusetts and Memphis.
With the arrests of some assistant coaches and agents back in September, the FBI warned about”the dark underbelly of college athletics,” and indicated that investigations would be ongoing. If the FBI is to be taken at its word, UofL should steer clear of any individual involved in questionable recruiting practices.
Payne was a good player at Louisville from 1985 through the 1989 seasons, competing on UofL ‘s national championship team in 1986. He had a nice jump shot, players seem to like him, and his teams get recruits (see above). As for leadership and coaching abilities, however, the jury is still out.
All David Padgett needs at this juncture is to have some half serious sportswriters and talk show hosts taking advantage of the rivalry to stir up controversy. He had a lot to learn, obviously, but it is much too premature to be discussing any possible successors.
As with Padgett, Kenny Payne has no previous head coaching experience. Ten games into Payne’s first season, we would be having another conversation about the next candidate from UK to be the UofL coach, with much prompting from writers like Bozich and Sullivan.
For whatever reason, Tom Jurich would never seriously consider dropping Kentucky off a University of Louisville schedule in any sport. Never under his watch.
Contrary to some of us who would rather do without all the animosity, Jurich apparently considers UK as indispensable to the lineup of opponents. Probably because the games between the teams are always among the best attended, attract maximum media exposure, and are fiercely contested.
Many Louisville fans can still remember the days when Kentucky refused to play UofL in the major sports. As long as the Wildcats didn’t have to play Louisville, they could claim they were far superior and there was no way to challenge that notion. UK was in the mighty SEC and UofL was either an independent or making its way in and out of a half dozen secondary conferences.
UofL actually needed UK on the schedule in those days, seeking validity, wanting to earn the respect of the Lexington rival. When the teams finally did begin playing each other in basketball and football, and Louisville began to win many of those games, it soon became apparent that gaining the respect of UK fans was not possible.
The basketball series, of course, is still considered the most heated in the rivalry. This despite the fact that UK has won eight of the last nine games, including four straight over the Cardinals. John Calipari and his NBA prep factory owning Rick Pitino over the past decade. Games between UofL and UK women are equally contentious, with Louisville’s Jeff Walz finally breaking a six-year losing streak to Matthew Mitchell this season.
No less intense in football, in which UofL has won five of the last six games. Wildcat fans are still reveling in their team’s 41-38 upset of 11th-ranked Louisville in the final regular season game. That win more important to Kentucky than making a bowl game for the first time in six years.
The baseball stadiums in both Louisville and Lexington are always packed for the UofL-UK games, always tightly contested, integral to the success of both teams. Louisville has owned the series in recent years, winning the last six games between the two teams.
UK fans will never acknowledge that UofL is anywhere close to being on the same level in terms of prestige or competitiveness — no matter how many times UofL defeats them or how many national championships or final fours the Cardinals claim. For that matter, neither will UofL ever give UK fans the respect they think they deserve.
Kentucky fans consider Louisville as a crime-infested urban area. Many of them have never visited the state’s largest and most prosperous city. A large segment of Louisville fans, on the other hand, consider Kentucky a rural and backward state, ranked near the bottom in many national categories, and a state that relies heavily on Louisville tax dollars to stay afloat.
For these and many other reasons, the rivalry is among the most bitter rivalries in college sports. Those who describe it as a friendly rivalry are, as one friend described them, “art majors,” completely out of touch with the real world.
The rivalry is counterproductive in many ways, often dividing families, friendships, business relationships, and communities. Not good for the state either, creating very real barriers to any real significant cooperation between the state’s two largest educational institutions.
Despite all these negative factors, the rivalry will go on, making life miserable for fans of the losing school, creating even more levels of resentment and animosity. UK and UofL fans live to hate each other.
Tom Jurich knows that will probably never change. Kentucky fans consider Louisville a threat, and that equals respect, whether they ever admit it or not. That’s why UK is staying on the schedule.
Up until a chilly day in Lexington in 1979, Kelly Dickey hadn’t paid much attention to sports or state rivalries. The sixth-grader simply needed a jacket for school, inheriting a hand-me-down from an older brother. That red windbreaker would wind up making a permanent connection for him with a certain athletic program.
“When I got to school, I noticed I was getting all these snarky comments about Louisville the city, Louisville the basketball team,” he recalls, noting the jacket had Louisville emblazoned on the back.
“They would ask me about ‘Loserville’ and ‘Blackbirds’. I thought to myself, ‘What’s going on, why all this hatred for Louisville?’ I became a UofL fan out of a civic pride for the city, having lived there a few years earlier.”
The youngster would start clipping UofL box scores from the newspaper and begin making spreadsheets in a spiral notebook shortly thereafter. He would be rewarded by his favorite team with the program’s first NCAA championship a few months later. “I was ecstatic,” he recalls. “The UK fans didn’t talk much after that.”
Not only would Kelly Dickey become a staunch UofL supporter but he would become one of the most knowledgeable people on the athletic program in the fan base. He is considered by many fans to be the last word, the go-to guy for factual information about Louisville football and basketball, from major events to the minuscule and the obscure.