Tough times make for better Louisville baseball in post-season play

By Ed Peak

There are certain things I know about this University of Louisville baseball team. I know it is not coach Dan McDonnell’s best or most talented in his 13 seasons. This Cardinal team has had more than its share of ups and downs.

There was so much drama in Monday's game I had to turn my radio broadcast off at work.

Getting just four hits and scoring two runs in two Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament losses last week clearly signaled a red flag. After a sluggish win Friday over UIC in the first NCAA Tournament game, Illinois State beat the Cardinals to send the No. 7 overall seed into the losers bracket. They would hang on for a two-run win over Indiana on Sunday.

UofL lost top reliever Michael McAvene to an ejection with two outs in the ninth inning against IU when he questioned umpire Ken Langford’s call of a pitch. He did not get a warning, he got ejected. Umpires sometimes overreact. Players sometime overreact. He will sit out three more games. That’s the rule, fair or not.

Dan McDonnell has had plenty of success but says it has never come easily.

There was so much drama in Monday’s game I had to turn the radio broadcast off at work. When Louisville went up 3-1, I thought this might be in the bag. But a line drive mishandled by Trey Leonard in centerfield was deemed a three base error. The next batter singled and the game was tied 3-3. Nothing came easy in the Regional.

“It shouldn’t come easy,” said McDonnell. “All of these teams have done something that has gotten them here. I talk all the time about toughness. Everything in life isn’t going to be easy, go the way you think it should. The same on the baseball field.”

The thing that impresses me most about this team is its mental toughness. It is team-first driven. These players seem to really care for each other. A lot of that had to do with McDonnell and the way he coaches and the kind of person he is.

When was the last time you heard a Louisville player in trouble off the field or discipline for an off the field problem. Never. Athletes and coaches a like have egos. Bigger than most people. They are sure of their abilities beyond belief sometimes. 

What also impresses me is the Louisville players are classy, short on ego.  No, they aren’t perfect and they’re not choir boys. Just look at some of  players that have gone to play professionally. A long list, including Brenden McKay, Will Smith, Drew Ellis, Zack Burdi, Corey Ray, Nick Solak, Chris Dominguez. I’m sure I’ve left some names out but the list is impressive.

Toughness and class abound in the McDonnell’s baseball program, and UofL will continue to reap the benefits in post-season play.

Asia’s last game at the Yum! Center, but more to do for UofL women

Asia Durr’s time is running out but there are greater things for her to achieve over the next couple of weeks.

Durr being introduced for the last time at the KFC Yum! Center. Making five 3-pointers. Leaving to a standing ovation at the 1:54 mark. Kissing the floor at center court five minutes after the game, following it up with a victory lap around Denny Crum Court.

Had to be around the past four seasons to appreciate the significance of the moment, enjoying Durr as long as one can, knowing players this good are rare indeed. Probably playing at the Yum! for the last time, again setting the tone for the Cardinals against another outstanding opponent. Seemingly always at her best when it counts the most.

Asia would score 24 points to lead all scorers, making nine of 24 shots and five assists. The University of Louisville would defeat Michigan 71-50 in front of an exuberant  crowd of 7,725, in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Durr was joined on her post-game victory lap by fellow seniors Sam Fuehring and Arica Carter, constituting a trio of seniors who have compiled a 123-22 won-lost record at UofL over the past four seasons. No looking back. a time to celebrate, looking ahead to  their third consecutive Sweet 16 berth and a trip to the Albany Regional.

Behind Durr’s first three 3-pointers and 12 points, Louisville would race to an early 19-11 lead in the first quarter. The teams were essentially trading baskets until UofL outscored Michigan 17-5 in the third quarter, the Wolverines gasping for breath as the four quarter began.

Jazmine Jones would add 15 points, Sam Fuehring and Dana Evan 10 points apiece. Kylie Shook, starting her second straight NCAA tournament game, would add 10 rebounds, eight points and two blocks. 

Durr and her classmates running those post-game laps, celebrating the past four seasons, not wanting to leave the floor for the last time. Wanting to ensure that an intensely loyal fan base receives credit as well.

“It was great,” said Durr. “Playing here for four years with such great fans, great people who follow you everywhere, literally everywhere. I can’t really put it into words because it’s a feeling that you’ll never forget, and years down the line, you talk to your kids, your grandkids, your friends about these four years …”

Wait till next year time for Louisville basketball

Time to put the basketballs in mothballs.

The University of Louisville dies a quick death Thursday afternoon. First game. First out. Minnesota 86, Louisville 76.  UofL finishes 20-14, losing six of their last eight games. The two wins coming against Notre Dame.

The Cardinals shoot air balls. Fall trying to rebound. Foul three point shooters. Actually don’t guard the three-point line where the Golden Gophers averaged five made threes a game but made 11 of 27 on Thursday.

Minnesota led by as many of 19 points. Gabe Kalscheur led the Gophers with 24 points making five of 11 three point baskets and eight rebounds. Amir Coffey added 13. The Gophers had zero bench points.

Christen Cunningham led the Cards with 22 points, Jordan Nwora had 10 for a team that shot 44.1 per cent from the floor and nine of 26 from three point baskets for 34.6 percent. The teams payed to a 35-35 draw rebounding.
“It’s a special movement for our program,” said Gophers coach Richard Pitino, son of former Cardinals head man, Rick Pitino. “We beat a really good Louisville team.”

The Cardinals never gave up, but were climbing a mountain all afternoon.
The NCAA Tournament is the reward for a season well played. Louisville did enough to earn an at large bid to the 68 team field for the first time since 2017 and the second time in four years.

Card Nation is tired of the drama with the basketball and football teams. The committee added drama with the matchup between Pitino’s 10th seeded Gophers and seventh seed Louisville. It was the tournament’s first game in of this years tournament. A CBS national audience watching for at least 30 minutes. The Cardinals were mostly a mess. Louisville gave up three baskets at a alarming rate. Fell down on rebounds. Shot air balls. What could Chris Mack do?

It’s the journey. No more false hopes, bad basketball won’t do. Card Nation can only hope and wait till next year.

Not pretty, nowhere to hide, Louisville basketball is done

A strange season, full of puzzling ups and downs, unbelievable twists and turns, winding up in a ditch Thursday for the University of Louisville basketball team. A sense of relief cascading over the fan base now that the 2018-19 season has come screeching to a halt.

Back to the NCAA, a few nice wins, fewer distractions this season, some good things happening along the way.

At the end, however, it was increasingly obvious that Coach Chris Mack had a lack of players with real basketball savvy or talent. For Mack to win 20 games and finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference with this team was an incredible accomplishment. Ending in an 86-76 loss to Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA.

Mack was being sensitve, wanting to spare the feelings of his players. Nowhere to hide if the talent isn't there.

A team that defeated Michigan State, beat North Carolina by 21 points at Chapel Hill, led Virginia by 10 points at the half and led Duke by 23 points in the second half. How were any of these accomplishments even possible? Outmanned at every position on the floor in the spotlight games, the Cardinals somehow managed to raise expectations to traditional levels.

Just when one started to believe in them, however, they would fail to show up, resembling a local YMCA team. Few signs of individual leadership, except when Jordan Nwora was hitting the circus 3-pointers. But depending far too much on 3-pointers, with seemingly nary a clue about layups until games were out of reach. 

Can’t remember since the dwindling days of the Denny Crum era any examples of worse defensive efforts. Worked for a while but it didn’t take long for teams to figure it out, probably because some of the UofL players were not equipped for the challenge.

“Not quite good enough,” as the coach quipped at the end of his press conference. He was being sensitive, wanting to spare the feelings of his players. Nowhere to hide if the talent isn’t there.

There was ample evidence, however, that future Chris Mack-coached teams will be far superior to his initial installation. Rick Pitino and David Padgett left the cupboard pretty bare, forcing Mack to rely heavily on transfers and players who didn’t capture the imagination of many top level college teams. No heroes on the bench, no contributions from any walk-ons, no born leaders.

Mack did take this team much farther than anyone ever predicted, far surpassing low expectations. He’s going to be rewarded for his initiative, his persistence and patience with the second highest ranked recruiting class in the nation. Mack is already ahead of the game, and his program is only going to get better.

Jeff Walz sees his team again at press conference


Jeff Walz was hit hard by the flu bug over the weekend, and he hasn’t been the same since. He coached the team from a balcony overlooking the court on Monday, not wanting to infect members of the University of Louisville women’s basketball team.

He intended to coach them on Tuesday, getting out of his sick bed, hopping in his car to go to practice. “I got halfway there and had to pull over to the side of the road and go back home,” he said, without providing graphic details.  “I’m not 100% now but I’m feeling better, probably 80%. I should be okay by Friday.”Jeff Walz

He was seated at a table at an NCAA press conference Thursday, alongside Myisha Hines-Allen, Mariya Moore and Asia Durr. “This is about as close as I have been to the team in about five days. I’m very fortunate to have a great staff.  They know exactly what we’re trying to do and what we’re going to do. We all have each other’s backs, it’s something we pride ourselves on here.”

The coach’s eyes seem to light up as he heard his players discuss their commitment to getting better on defense going into Friday’s NCAA game against Arkansas Central.

“The coaches have been stressing defense all week,” said Hines-Allen. “When we played Syracuse (a loss in the ACC tournament), we didn’t play defense. Offensively, we can play with a lot of teams, we just need to work on defense.”

“Defense, defense, defense,” said Moore. “We’ve done a lot of work on defense and we need to be at our strongest in tournament play.”

Music to Walz’s ears, the coach with the bleary eyes actually managing a smile.

“The tournament is what we’ve been preparing for for six months,” he said. “If you have a bad day in the tournament, we’re done. You might not make shots,  you might not do something you normally do well but you have to figure out a way to have a positive impact. If you’re not on the floor, be cheering.

“We played enough basketball now that our freshmen are no longer freshmen. Youth is not an excuse. We’re prepared, they’re prepared. We hope it’s going to be a great weekend of basketball.”

That would put the effects of flu a distant memory.