Enjoy Donovan Mitchell while you have him, Louisville fans

Donovan Mitchell has scored 29 and 28 points in his last two games (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Been a few years since the University of Louisville basketball team had a player who made scoring look as easy as Donovan Mitchell did during the first half against North Carolina State.

An amazing offensive performance, Mitchell scoring UofL’s first 14 points, winding up with a total of 28 for the game in an easy 85-60 win over the Wolf Pack. This following an equally impressive outing earlier in the week when he scored 29 points in the 106-51 win over Pittsburgh.

Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Smith going for a loose ball, Mitchell winning again (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Quite a contrast from his showing at Florida State where Mitchell was held to six points in a three-point loss at Tallahassee. The resurgence possibly sparked by a conversation with his father after that disappointing showing.

Dennis Smith has seen enough of Donovan Mitchell for a while (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“Dad told me I always start out slow,” he related. “He said I should be the one who goes out there and sets the tone.”

Couldn’t have happened at a better time, with UofL point guards Quentin Snider and Tony Hicks sidelined with injuries. 

“I don’t really think about it. I just focus on the next play, getting a steal or a deflection,” he said. “I was just open and knocking down shots.” 

The only negative is that there were reportedly 36 NBA scouts in the crowd of 21,650 at the KFC Yum! Center on Sunday, most of them to get a look at NC State’s Dennis Smith, Jr.  Mitchell was dominant, however, prompting thoughts that he could be tempted to enter his name in the draft following the season.

Don’t look for Coach Rick Pitino to discourage Mitchell from leaving early. Players don’t seem to pay him much attention when a future in the NBA seems to be within reach. The days of expecting exceptional players to stick around through their senior year are behind us.

May be better just collecting a paycheck and sitting on the bench as Chinanu Onuaku, UofL’s most recent early departure, is doing with the Houston Rockets. He has been in two NBA games this games this season, collecting only six points.

Mitchell is currently averaging 14.8 points per game, hitting 40% of his field goal attempts, 37% of his 3-point attempts, and 79.4% of his free throws. 

Probably best for UofL fans not to worry about Mitchell’s future. Enjoy how quickly and how far his game has advanced during his sophomore season. He’s playing at another level, making his teammates better and putting Louisville in a position to be highly competitive in February.

Louisville women shut down NC State free throw buffet line

The Internet stream from GoPack.com stalls with two seconds remaining in the game, the score between the University of Louisville and North Carolina State women’s basketball teams tied at 90-90. Mariya Moore at the free throw line for two shots.

Somebody on the NC State scorer’s table possibly pulling the plug as Moore sinks both free throws giving the UofL women a two-point win. The little round circle going round and round endlessly, probably still circling even now.

Mariya Moore finishes with 28 points.
Mariya Moore finishes with 28 points.

A shame because Louisville fans who hung around through all the fouls and free throws deserved to see Louisville finally prevail after trailing NC State by 11 points midway through the fourth quarter. Every time an NC State player got close to the UofL basket in the second half, the officials would cry foul on a Louisville player. Almost every time, predictable, right on schedule.

UofL was whistled for a total of 35 fouls in the game, leading to 34 points for NC State. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, were called for 23 while giving up only 16 points at the free throw line to Louisville. Many of the fouls visible only to the officials making the calls.

Moore had sunk two free throws at the 17-second mark capping an 11-point comeback for UofL in the fourth quarter. She would lead all scorers with 31 points, collecting 24 of them in the second half. Asia Durr made her presence felt as well, scoring 13 of her 21 points in the final 20 minutes.

Thank Dakota Weatherford for forcing a jump ball with three seconds, giving UofL the ball, and Moore a chance to clinch the win. Which UofL fans missed, thanks to whoever pulled the plug on the NC State scorer’s table.

Jackson rushes for 121 yards, Louisville disposes of NC State

When his receivers weren’t dropping passes in their hands, Lamar Jackson was throwing the ball everywhere else in the University of Louisville’s 20-13 win at North Carolina State.

Still with much to learn, the freshman quarterback could complete only 10 of 27 passing attempts. At one point, Jackson receiving a tongue-lashing from Bobby Petrino for hurrying a pass to the feet of a wide open receiver in the first half.

Petrino may want to consider a different motivational approach with Jackson, managing to connect on only two of 10 passes in the second half. The most positive aspect of his passing game was that didn’t throw any interceptions.

Jackson would more than make up for his passing deficiences, however, running for 121 yards. That 68-yard run for a touchdown in the first half set the tone, serving notice to NC State that UofL was not your average 1-3 team. He raised his total rushing yards to 416 yards for season, setting an all-time record for UofL quarterbacks. He’s third on the all-time quarterback rushing list with five touchdowns.

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So many candidates for the highlight of the game with lots of crucial plays.

— If NC State’s Jumichael Ramos had scored on that 48-yard pass play early in the first quarter, this game was off to a near-disastrous start. But Tremaine Washington, who rode Ramos’ back for a good 10 yards, wasn’t giving up, forcing a fumble on the four-yard line.

— Reggie Bonnafon directing a six-minute drive late in the game, bursting through the middle for 12 yards and a crucial first down in a third-and-nine situation.

— James Burgess putting the hurt on Michael Deyes on that fourth-and-one play, sealing the victory. Visions of a last second nightmare looming until that stop.

— Lamar Jackson breaking down the NC State defense for that 68-yard touchdown against a rugged defense that had been prepping for him all week. When he tweaks his passing game, gets his entire act together, Jackson is going to be a challenge for any opposing team.

”I had to do whatever to get my team to win,” he said after the game. ”That’s all I’ve been doing.”

Louisville stuffs N.C. State to get to Regional finale

University of Louisville basketball fans can come up for air now. Their team is back where UofL belongs, returning to another NCAA Regional championship game, just 40 minutes of heart-stopping action away from another possible Final Four appearance.

Sometimes it seems as if UofL fans are just willing this to happen, hanging on every dribble, every pass, every rebound, every shot, every look, every expression, weathering the rough spots. Rewarded for their perseverance and patience with another memorable tournament run.

Quentin Snider keeps getting better (UofL photo)
Quentin Snider playing with growing confidence. (UofL photo)

Louisville is very much in the hunt, thank you, with a 75-65 win over North Carolina State, in a game that was almost a complete turnaround from the 74-65 loss to the Wolf Pack on Valentine’s Day. Taking them seriously this time, totally focused, sticking together, running the offense, playing through the misses, taking the good ones.

As Assistant Coach Mike Balado testified after the game, there’s no one better than Rick Pitino at getting his players prepared for games, especially the big ones, getting young men to believe in themselves, knowing what to expect from the opposition, showing them how to win.

Pitino had one of those conversations with Anton Gill the other day, letting him know he believed in him despite the lack of playing time, telling him to be ready when his time came. One of those make-a-difference times in a player’s career. “I won’t let you down, Coach,” was Gill’s response to Pitino’s faith in him.

Gill’s moment would arrive after Wayne Blackshear collected his fourth foul at the 8:31 mark. He would respond with a runner to put UofL back on top and drain a 3-pointer from the right corner in a span of a minute. He would follow that up with a baseline drive for a 62-57 lead with 3:33 left.

“Coach believed in me,” he said. “I just wanted to make something happen.”

— Quentin Snider running the point with efficiency of a Peyton Siva, not affected by the big stage, no ups or downs for him, sticking to the game plan. Gaining confidence with each game, taking care of the ball, totally unflappable. Fourteen points, three assists, one turnover.

— Montrezl Harrell will someday be coaching, loves giving instructions almost as much as he does dunking. Both come naturally to him. Energetic from beginning to end this game, letting the celebrating go after the dunks, getting back quicker on defense. Twenty-four points, seven rebounds and a block.

— Terry Rozier finding his rhythm again on offense, a demon on the boards with 14 rebounds, an even bigger threat when he doesn’t burden himself and plays within the offense. Fourteen rebounds, 17 points and four assists during his relentless 40 minutes.

— Mangok Mathiang just needed to get a little better on offense to help his team. His early lay up a confidence builder for everyone associated with UofL. Not backing down on defense, always a barrier, especially when he’s blocking shots, three of them against N.C. State.

These guys are having fun, coming at the right time. They’ve earned the right to another shot at the Final Four.