Basketball just can’t wait for college football season

The unveiling of a new University of Louisville basketball schedule inevitably brings mixed feelings for this observer. The schedule release always occurs early in September, diverting attention away from the college football season only three weeks into the schedule.

When Rick Pitino was here, the schedule always seemed to be announced just a couple of days before the opening football game. Seemingly intentional timing, like someone wanting to remind local fans of the most worshipped sport in Louisville, football be damned.

 Probably has something to do with the fact that the city and the state have never enjoyed sustained success in football, the sports fanatics having little choice but basketball for any notoriety. And why state schools, including UofL, despite some notable achievements in football, are still considered “basketball schools.”

Not necessarily a bad thing, despite the taint swirling around college basketball these days, FBI investigations and such. But lack of overall success in football can detract from a school’s overall national reputation. UofL football was close to breaking through the perceived barrier a couple of years ago before its offensive line collapsed, knocking the program out of contention for the college football playoffs. 

It has always taken this observer three or four weeks into the schedule to get over football and get excited about basketball.  The transition could take even longer this year with the opening exhibition game against Bellarmine coming three days before Halloween.  The earlier part of the schedule also will include no names like Nicholls State, Southern, Central Arkansas, Kent State and Robert Morris.

For some reason, someone at the NCAA believes the college basketball season should start earlier and earlier every year. The Cardinals will already be playing teams like Tennessee, Michigan State, and Kansas or Marquette by the end of November. The NCAA as an organization does not own college football like it does basketball, and apparently wants to milk the sport for every possible dollar.

Among the good things on the UofL basketball schedule is the fact that the Cardinals aren’t playing Kentucky on New Year’s Eve this year, with that game set for Saturday, Dec. 29th. Also nice that slackers like Pittsburgh and Boston College are each on the schedule twice this year. Louisville will also play two games against North Carolina.

The bad news is UofL also plays Virginia twice again this season, with games at home and on the road. Never good to see the Cavaliers as the final game of the regular season, especially at Charlottesville. By then, however, college basketball will have captured our full attention, having gradually worked it way back to becoming the center of the sports universe. 

2018-19 University of Louisville basketball schedule

Mickey Clark constant companion at numerous UofL Final Fours

Back in 1982, the  family made the 12-hour trek to New Orleans for the second Final Four appearance in three years for University of Louisville basketball team.  Along with many other fans, as part of a caravan some of the way, enjoying the UofL camaraderie, genuinely fun times.

Mickey Clark was a constant companion for many UofL fans on NCAA trips.

Much of the time we were entertained by the music of Louisville’s own Mickey Clark, a country entertainer who composed and recorded his own version of “The Battle of New Orleans.” A musical tribute  to the 1981-82 basketball team, recapping the highlights while saluting the individual players.

The Springers arrive at a motel about 80 miles away on a Friday night before the game. Sleeping late the next day, only to realize that New Orleans is on central standard time. Pushing the gas pedal to the floor, arriving in the vicinity of the Super Bowl to discover there are no parking spaces. Panic stricken the observer winding up in the main U.S. Post Office parking lot, very close to the unloading level. Have to gamble that the car will still be there after the game.

We hustle over to the Superdome, finding our seats on the next last row in of the upper end zone for the Louisville-Georgetown game. Somehow making the tip off. Thankfully there’s a video screen above because the players are little more than specks on the floor.  UofL would lose the game 50-46. All was not lost, however, because the car was still in the same place after the game. And the Cards will return to the Final Four, held in Albuquerque the next year.

Mickey’s cassette tape will be played and replayed, before, during and on the return trip to Louisville. His music an integral part of the memories and the total experience. He would come out with numerous different recordings for various basketball trips over the next 30 years, including the UofL’s third national championship in the 2012-13 season.

Clark passed away Sunday night in Louisville, surrounded by his family. He will always occupy a special place in the hearts of many UofL fans.

Other music is available on Brennan Clark’s (his son) YouTube account.

One glorious day for Louisville basketball fans

Myisha Hines-Allen kisses the Cardinal logo at midcourt after her final home game (top photo). And another wild and crazy NIT crowd showed for the Louisville men’s victory over Middle Tennesee (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Darius Perry and Quentin Snider celebrate during Louisville’s win over Middle Tennessee (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

A perfect day for University of Louisville basketball fans.

One of those magical days for UofL basketball, the KFC Yum! Center the center of the universe, the place to be on a Sunday in March.  Basketball all day long, thousands of fans emerging to celebrate, enjoying every last minute as the 2017-18 season nears an end.

The UofL women’s team dominating Marquette 90-72 before a crowd of 8,017 in the second round of the NCAA tournament in the afternoon. The men’s team  defeating a good Middle Tennessee State team 84-68 before 13,050 in the second round of the NIT later that night.

Ray Spalding gets some encouragement from UofL Coach David Padgett (Cindy Ride Shelton photo).

A day of winning for Cardinals’ fans, basking in the spotlight of national TV coverage, shedding the negativity, enjoying the positive, happy days are her again for UofL basketball. More of those resounding C-A-R-D-S cheers in one day than one an remember over the last three or four years.

That kind of day for the Louisville fans, wanting to show their Cardinals some love, wanting to catch up on the good times, and put some of the bad memories behind them if only for a day or so. A good day to be a Louisville fan.

Myisha Hines-Allen, a senior playing in her last game in Louisville, kissing the Cardinal logo on the floor after the game. That fabled turn-around jump shot of hers, rat-a-tat-tat, working to perfection, making 12 of 16 field goal attempts. 

“It was my last game here, and I wanted to go out with a win,” she said after the game. “I’m just so thankful to have made it this far, to have great teammates around me, to have wonderful fans come out to a game, know what they’re watching. They’re such great fans, and I consider everyone I’ve met over the last four years a part of my family.”

Jazmine Jones collects two of her 14 points against Marquette (Cindy Rice Sheton photo).

Louisville fans going to miss her eloquent post-game commentaries and  that shot she has perfected. Hines-Allen putting on a clinic, making it look so easy when it’s so hard for every shooter. Still another double-double, the 33rd of her career at UofL, with 24 points and 13 rebounds.

Asia Durr finding her outside shot again, making three of six 3-point attempts, finishing 19 points and six assists. Sam Fuehring breaking loose for 19 points as well. Jazmine Jones adding 14 points.

Asia Durr making three of her six 3-point attempts and 19 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The men, propelled by another one of those joyous NIT crowds, radiating new levels of energy and determination. Also shooting with new levels of efficiency, hitting 53 percent of their field goal attempts.

Ryan McMahon invigorating the Cardinals in the first half, burying four of six 3-point attempts from behind the experimental 22-foot line. Igniting his team, making the crowd erupt, giving UofL some rare breathing room in the first half. 

Jordan Nwora enjoying 21 minutes of playing time, also zeroing from the behind the 3-point line making four of eight attempts and 17 points for the night. Ray Spalding making good on eight of 11 shots, earning team scoring honors with 18 points.

Anas Mahmoud with the slam dunk of his career, surprising even himself, shocking the crowd, making fans do double-takes, even after watching the replay on the video board. Some disbelievers still shaking their heads as they headed for home after the nightcap.

Many familiar faces at both games, downtown businesses benefitting from two UofL games in the same day. One big great reunion of Cardinal fans, celebrating Cardinal basketball all day long. Devoted fans, not easily discouraged by events of the past, giddy to be back on the winning side.

Nowhere to hide from bad losses for Louisville basketball

For all the talk about the University of Louisville basketball team not having any bad games, there sure have been a lot of downs for Coach David Padgett’s team. Posing a real threat to UofL’s chances of receiving an NCAA invitation.

The latest downer was a 75-58 loss to top-ranked Virginia in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Almost a week after the Cardinals had fumbled away a sure win in a 67-66 shocker against the Cavaliers at the KFC Yum! Center.

Louisville would be humbled again a couple of nights later in a 76-69 loss to North Carolina State that was not as close as the score indicated. A couple of weeks ago UofL lost to Duke and North Carolina by deficits of 26 and 17 points, respectively. And, of course, there was there was that inexplicable 29-point loss to Kentucky earlier in the season.

References to the turmoil off the court may amount to little more than excuses or rationalization

Yet there was Coach David Padgett being optimistic in the post-game press conference saying, “If you look at our overall body of work, we haven’t done anything wrong. I think that’s getting lost a lot in the shuffle this year is people used to put a lot of emphasis and a lot of weight on these, quote-unquote, bad losses.”

As much as one may like and respect Padgett, all of the above-mentioned losses could be construed as less than stellar to NCAA selection committee members. To add to the challenge, there have been no wins against ranked teams.

When the Cardinals did impress this season, it was always against lesser competition. Raising the hopes of their fans, only to have them dashed against better one. At times seeming to play without purpose or leadership, employing a confusing variety of lineups, some players disappearing for weeks at a time.

Rarely was there much evidence of the confidence and passion required for a team to meet or exceed expectations. Even with the off-the-court hurdles, UofL was still expected to be among the nation’s top five teams this season.

There were a few exhilarating moments, but they were few and far between. The passion exhibited by Louisville teams in the past was missing. If a switch was turned on in one game, the duration was all too brief, nowhere to found in the next. Little evidence of consistency from one half to the next, or from one game to another. 

All the references to the turmoil off the court amount to little more than excuses or rationalization. If anything the controversies could have brought the team closer together, you know, the us against the world mentality. One never sensed that to be the case, almost as if the players were in collective denial. One also has to wonder about the motivational approaches or lack thereof with so much drama to feed on during the season.

There were a few fun moments, including two wins over a good Virginia Tech team, and wins over Indiana and Memphis. Fitting the feel good category nicely but getting lost in the shuffle between all those disappointing losses. A season in which the optimism and patience of long-time UofL fans was severely tested. 

An NCAA invitation would be surprising, whether Padgett believes his team is deserving or not. A lot of shortcomings for the selection committee to overlook. Best for Louisville fans not to get those hopes up too high.

Louisville takes Virginia to the brink but flood wall collapses

Louisville was ready to take down Virginia until the last second (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

For 39 minutes and 59 seconds on Thursday evening, University of Louisville basketball was reliving the glory days, building on a glorious tradition, casting out the demons, putting the finishing touches on the nation’s No. 1 team. 

Whut? Whoa. What should have been a routine ending suddenly takes a dramatic turn.

The dark clouds would re-emerge in that final second, slamming UofL fans in their collective gut, punishing them for their flirtation with exhilaration, shaming them for being optimistic. Back again, the implausible but undeniable scourge that has pummeled  the basketball program for months.

Quentin Snider would score 13 points in 35 minutes on Senior Night (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Louisville leading by four points with five seconds to go. Just take care of business. Wouldn’t happen, however. Darius Perry would foul a three-point shooter, cutting the margin to two. Deng Adel would travel on an out-of-bounds play, and De’Andre Hunter would throw up a 3-point shot with zero-nine-tenths of a second to go. 

Swish.

Virginia defeats UofL 67-66 to the absolute astonishment of 19,413 disbelieving Cardinal fans. That bloody dagger of a shot potentially a life-altering shot for members of the UofL coaching staff and their families.

One win could have decided so much for the program, a spot in the NCAA tournament for a young coach, making it next to impossible for David Padgett to be denied the permanent position. That’s all up in the air again, prolonging the continuing uncertainty.

So many downcast faces departing the KFC Yum! Center, many apparently believing this may have been the crushing blow for this team, some wondering if their team could recover. Typical reactions in the immediate aftermath of a loss, only one second away from shaking off some of the misery of the recent past. 

Maybe all is not lost, however.

One must remember that Louisville was competing against the No. 1 team in the country. David Padgett had a good game plan, his players executed, and the UofL dominated Virginia for much of the game.  UofL would have won were it not for two improbable plays and one miraculous shot. That close.

In fact, the Cardinals may well have played their best basketball of the season in the past two games, after being written off by many after a 26-point loss to Duke. Just in time for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. 

Don’t count Louisville out just yet. The misery can’t last forever.