Ray Spalding at best as UofL quells Syracuse

Unfortunately for Syracuse, Ray Spalding came to play Sunday, going home with 18 points and 11 rebounds (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

While some may question his lack of desire, coordination and shooting ability, Ray Spalding has never lacked for support from Rick Pitino. The coach shaking up the lineup, inserting Spalding as a starter on Sunday. Yeah, that Ray Spalding.

This coming off a two-point, four-rebound and two-turnover performance in a losing effort against North Carolina just last Wednesday, evoking familiar complaints from second-guessers in local sports mediums.

Never doubt that Pitino is aware of the awkward shots, the questionable ball-handling and all the miscues, not only in games, but day after day in practice. But the University of Louisville basketball coach also senses the potential waiting to be tapped, the coach allowing himself the luxury of waiting for it to emerge.

Breakthrough performances tend to come and go, so Pitino’s patience may have been only partially rewarded on Sunday in an 88-68 win over Syracuse before 22,482 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. 

There he was, knocking the ball away from a Syracuse player on defense, completing a rare alley-oop dunk on a half court pass from Quinten Snider, making a rare jump shot from the top of the key and snatching a rebound — all in the first five minutes, with UofL racing to a 13-6 lead.

Donovan Mitchell obviously having some fun at John Gillan’s expense. He also scored 25 points (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

All was not perfect. Spalding would miss two free-throw opportunities. But he had already outperformed, making himself a presence to be dealt with from the beginning. Easily the game of his career at UofL, making of eight of nine field goal attempts, grabbing 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

If Pitino was pleased, he wasn’t making a big deal of Spalding’s game. “What we’ve been lacking is consistency from our front line players,” he said. So the coach is not quite ready to say Spalding has turned any corners. And even if he has, that may be approaching what Pitino expects from the 6-foot-10 sophomore.

Deng Adel loves those running starts (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

— Donovan Mitchell is hitting his stride, leading all scorers with 25 points, including six 3-pointers. He would be credited with four assists and two steals as well.

— Quentin Snider making five of nine field goal attempts for 12 points while making six assists. And get this, no turnovers in 34 minutes of action.

— Deng Adel loving those going-the-distance drives to the basket, so much that we’re likely to see many of them before the end of the season. Notches 17 points.

— Anas Mahmoud (should we say it?) may be back, making four of five shots for 8 points while grabbing nine rebounds. Makes it look easy at times despite his scrawny frame.

— Tony Hicks did play. I missed it, too, but the stat sheets indicate he was in the game for one minute.

— David Levitch back for about eight minutes, apparently working his way of Pitino’s dog house for the last two or three games.

The win improves UofL’s record to 23-6 overall and 11-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, good for second place with a showdown coming against Notre Dame at home next Sunday.  

But first one of those dreaded late night ACC road games, this one against Wake Forest at 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

Tepid free throw shooting torments Louisville

Long day for the University of Louisville basketball team. Sitting around in a hotel all day long, waiting for a 9 p.m. tipoff. Not exactly ideal.

Four of 13 free throw attempts? Not a good look for a team needing to rid itself of some nagging imperfections near the end of February. 

Missing the first six free throws, a weakness spreading to other parts of UofL’s game. The free shots bouncing off the back, the side and the front of the rim, a couple of them missing the rim entirely. 

Donovan Mitchell gets off to a slow start and Louisville pays (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Some familiar front line players still unable to find the bottom of a basket staring them in the face.  Unfamiliar territory despite all the practices and individual instruction. Familiar mistakes but not getting away with them against an upper echelon opponent. Little things, but big factors.

Maybe worse for the Cardinals was the fact that North Carolina was getting so many more trips to the foul line, making 21 of 29 of them. Not surprising but more than a little one-sided maybe?

Continue reading “Tepid free throw shooting torments Louisville”

Denny Crum turning 80, gets his own Makers Mark label

Denny Crum is turning 80 and still creating legacies at the University of Louisville. Creating UofL milestones in 1980 and 1986 with the school’s first two NCAA championships.

He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994, with the late John Wooden of UCLA fame as his presenter. Denny compiled  a 675–295 record over 30 years at UofL.

His latest legacy is the Denny Crum Scholarship Fund, which was established in 2001. More than $750,000 in scholarship money has been awarded to more than 350 students attending UofL — based on academics, community service and financial need.

Denny Crum had a 30-year tenure with Louisville basketball (Jim Reed photography).

Many of his fans and friends will be attending an 80th birthday bash for Denny on Wednesday, March 1 at the at the Ramada Plaza Louisville Hotel and Conference Center on Hurstbourne Lane, starting at 6 p.m., with a live auction. The event is also a fundraiser for the scholarship fund, intended to be a permanent offering at UofL.

Makers Mark has created a limited edition special label bottle, numbered from 1 to 80 to mark the occasion. Individual bottles are available at the auction, starting at $1,000 each. The No. 1 and No. 80 bottles are expected to be in major demand.  Denny wants No. 30  for his 30 years at the helm.

Tickets are $80 each. For  ticket info, contact mary@yorkmgmt.com at York Management or call 502-894-9768.

Mitchell early, Johnson late, Louisville nudges Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech arriving in town with some major aspirations, after knocking off Virginia in its last game, wanting to add an exclamation mark against the University of Louisville.

Jaylen Johnson getting to know his way around the basket lately (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Fired up, driven, with the familiar site of Coach Buzz Williams all worked up on the sideline, shedding his jacket early, changing from suit and tie at half time for a moisture-resistant sweatshirt in the final 20 minutes.

No time for any mistakes, not with Virginia Tech hitting 60% of its field goal attempts, and even better behind the 3-point line. UofL just refusing to wilt, coming away with a 94-90 win.

The visiting Hokies bringing their Barnum & Bailey circus act to town, along with a high-octane offense. They would tie an all-time record for 17 three-point baskets, daring the Cardinals to relax, take a couple of plays off.

Wasn’t going to happen Saturday, not with UofL committing a season-low three turnovers before a crowd of 21,524 fans Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Ryan McMahon with three 3-pointers in the second half (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Donovan Mitchell would take control for Louisville in the first half, connecting on his first six shots, including three 3-pointers en route while leading all scorers with 26 points.

Jaylen Johnson would take over in the second half, cleaning up beneath the basket time after time. He would score all 16 of his points in the second half, making six of nine from the field, and four of five at the free throw line. He would also have eight rebounds.

Then there was Ryan McMahon to the rescue again, making three of four 3-point shots in the second half, helping Louisville to overcome a deficit and take the lead for good.

“I wondered how we could win this game,” said Coach Rick Pitino afterwards. “Making our free throws coming the stretch was big for us. We won this game with offense.”

The Cardinals are tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, converging for a showdown at North Carolina at 9 p.m. next Wednesday.

Virginia Tech never was a team to be taken for granted, very much a threat with tournament time approaching. However, the Hokies weren’t about to slip up on Louisville, not this day, not with so much at stake for the Cardinals.

Ryan McMahon off the bench, carries Louisville past Syracuse in overtime

Ryan McMahon the guy who usually leads the cheers on the bench was leading the University of Louisville on the court at Syracuse in overtime on Big Monday. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

One of the most unpredictable games ever, no one ever really in command or playing under control, last one with the basketball wins … unless someone turns the ball over or dribbles it out of bounds.

Keystone cops near the end of regulation, balls bouncing off of heads, toes, butts and elbows. Or maybe a pinball game, balls ricocheting off the flappers, winding up with the weirdest angles, sometimes even in the basket.

The comedy on the court upstaged only by Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim roaming around with his mouth wide open, unable to believe any call could go against his Syracuse team. University of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino trying hard to stifle a smile or a smirk (who knows?) with the game on the line in the closing seconds of regulation. 

Anything seemed possible but winning the least likely after Donovan Mitchell fouled out at the 1:18 mark, with UofL clinging to a fragile five-point lead. No surprise Syracuse coming back to tie it up after one of those Keystone cop plays on a three-pointer by John Gillon. Deng Adel missing the front end of two bonus situations.  This one was destined for overtime.

With Mitchell out, Adel missing everything and Snider all but exhausted, the question was where UofL’s points were going to come from in this overtime.

Wait, is that Ryan McMahon out there? Was that Ryan McMahon with that 3-point jumper? Was that Ryan McMahon with an offensive rebound, cleaning up the garbage?

Syracuse fans had to be wondering, thinking, “Who is this guy?” They hadn’t seen him the entire game.

Yes, indeed, it was, Pitino confirming it. “Ryan never met a shot he didn’t like,” said the coach. “He has nerves of steel.”

Entirely appropriate that Ryan McMahon would be the UofL player at the line with one second on the clock, all but sealing the 76-72 win by swishing two of two free throws. Should have been over but that was only assured in the final split second when a Syracuse player stepped out of bounds. 

Louisville had outlasted Syracuse, but this time Ryan McMahon, usually leading cheers on the bench, was leading the charge on the floor when the final horn sounded.

The man: