Mangok saves best for last, Louisville edges Notre Dame

Mangok Mathiang could make Louisville a more serious contender if he could match his output against Notre Dame (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Mangok Mathiang may have had his best game since he first donned a University of Louisville basketball uniform five years ago during UofL’s 71-64 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

 Just happened to be Senior Night, a good time for the jovial 6-foot-10 Mathiang to also display traits of confidence and composure. Coming off the bench to score 18 points while pulling down 11 rebounds. 

Rick Pitino never minces words on the sidelines (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Equally impressive is that the official stats indicate that Mangok didn’t have a single turnover during his final game before a crowd of 22,612 at the KFC Yum! Center. Not even after he lost the ball on a one-man fast break that was as predictable as it was inevitable.

The win wrapped up a second place finish for Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference and guaranteed the Cardinals a double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mathiang scored 12 of his points in the first half, relieving Anas Mahmoud who had taken his starting position at center a couple of games ago. Whether this game was a breakthrough for him remains to be seen, with Coach Rick Pitino pointing out the play of his big men has been inconsistent at best.

— Donovan Mitchell was back as an offensive threat after all but disappearing in the Wake Forest loss, contributing a team-high 20 points on five of 15 field goal attempts. His four consecutive free throws in the final 22 seconds were crucial for the Cardinals.

— Quentin Snider was clearly the take-charge player during the final 20 minutes, scoring 15 of his 17 points in that second half.

— Deng Adel managed only six points on two 3-pointers, one of them a dagger giving UofL at the 39-second mark giving UofL a five-point lead.

Mathiang, meanwhile, was making the best of his last impression at the Yum! If he continues to show up, Louisville could be a serious contender.

Senior Day already for Mathiang, Hicks & Levitch

Mangok Mathiang, David Levitch, Tony Hicks.

So many ups and downs for Mangok, so many defensive stops for David Levitch, so few games for Tony Hicks. But another Senior Day has arrived for the University of Louisville basketball team. 

Thanks for the memories. UofL fans treasuring the remaining games, no how many or how few.

Forever Cardinals. Forever family.

Wake Forest survives, deprives Louisville of possible No. 1 seed

The Wake Forest players couldn’t wait until the end of the game to start celebrating, some of them jumping up and down with 10 seconds to go, their fans making their way down to the court.

The 88-81 win over the eighth-ranked University of Louisville obviously a big one, an unexpected triumph for the Demon Deacons.

Deng Adel kept Louisville in the game with his 22 points but still waiting for the Calvary (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Senior night for the eighth-ranked team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, not headed for the NCAA Tournament after the season, nothing to lose, letting it all hang out on a nationally-televised game. You know like they play this way all the time.

The Demon Deacons refusing to live up to their reputation, not rolling over, oblivious to UofL jumping out to an early 14-point lead in the first half. Hitting the circus shots, staying close, waiting for the Cardinals to go cold, whittling the lead to one point at the half. That was all the motivation Wake Forest seemed to need with all of the adrenaline flowing in the 14,500-seat facility.

Not a good road team this particular UofL basketball team, Donovan Mitchell seeming to lose his way after scoring all of his seven points in the first five minutes of the game. Mangok Mathiang credited with only one turnover but rarely able to catch a pass or make an easy shot look impossible. Ray Spalding getting off to a good start but mysteriously pulling a muscle or something, and never the same after that.

Deng Adel and Quentin Snider keeping UofL close with 22 and 15 points, respectively.

Not the best time to go sour, not with Louisville being mentioned prominently as a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Just another motivational factor for Wake Forest, nothing to lose, not much to gain except for a win over a top 10 team.

Watch them storm the court, those delirious Demon Deacon fans.

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?

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