Jude Schimmel takes command, Louisville to Sweet 16 again

Jude Schimmel is treasuring every moment she has left with the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, knowing the next game could be her last, not wanting it to end. Every trip down court to be treasured, adding to the legacy of the Schimmel sisters.

The younger sister of Shoni, Jude has emerged from a support role to a consistent leader in her senior season. One who doesn’t hesitate to take the big shots when those of her teammates are falling short, getting tentative or just going astray.Screenshot 2015-03-24 00.24.24

Things were going south in the second half in the NCAA quarterfinal game against South Florida. USF’s Courtney Williams was getting warmed up, going around UofL defenders with ease, scoring 10 of her team’s 13 points during UofL’s scoring drought. South Florida finally overtook the Cardinals, grabbing a 47-46 with 3:06 remaining.

Schimmel had missed one of those shots herself. But she would need to assume command, assessing the situation, Sara Hammond and Bria Smith each with four fouls, Myisha Hines-Allen with three. Her team embedded in a shooting slump, missing seven of their last eight shots. Not good with Courtney Williams using them as scrimmage material.

And Jude would take over, easing through the congestion, taking her defender one-on-one, getting the ball to fall through the basket. Not a pretty shot, but a good one, and Louisville was back on top to stay. Jude would score eight of her team’s final 12 points, including those graceful four-of-four attempts from the free throw line.

Schimmel would wind up as the team’s leading scorer with 13 points on a night when her team was making only 33 percent of their shots in still another defensive struggle. Also grabbing six rebounds, handing out five assists and making three steals.

When the game was over, UofL had defeated South Florida 62-50 on the Bulls’ home court, finally silencing the largest crowd to ever see a USF women’s game in Tampa. And UofL would advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season.

Jude’s not ready for it to be over. She clearly has some dreams of her own.

Louisville chases Northern Iowa back to Scary Land

With all the talk about scary Northern Iowa finally muted, the University of Louisville can look forward to even more hair-raising competition in the NCAA tournament. The Doomsday scenario only have had the effect of generating high levels of respect for the opposition.

No meltdowns, let ups or extended scoring droughts in a 66-53 win, sending UofL to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth straight season and the 14th time in school history.wayne

Terry Rozier certainly wasn’t affected by all the Chicken Little chatter, the sky is falling routine or the pre-game analysis that had made NIU a two-point favorite. Exuding poise and confidence, not missing a chew of his gum, prodding and poking the defense for openings, creating as many as they gave him, shredding, discarding the disbelieving Panthers.

Rozier would connect on eight of 13 field goals, including one 3-pointer, and eight of nine free throw attempts for 25 points. Equally awesome, however, were those half-court alley oop completions to Montrezl Harrell in the final three minutes, sucking the air out of the building.  Those were only two of his seven assists, a new personal high for him.

— Wayne Blackshear joining the 1,000-point club with that 3-pointer at 12;23 mark in the first half, but the play of the night was coming out of nowhere to block a sure dunk by NIU’s Wes Washpan that would have pulled NIU within four points. Quentin Snider would grab the rebound, hurl it downcourt to Rozier, in turn finding Harrell for another of those marvelous dunks.

— Mangok Mathiang would make another 10-foot jumper for his only points, but the job he did on NIU’s Seth Tuttle. Besides blocking two Tuttle shots, he would keep him contained and, importantly, was never suckered by any of the ball fakes. standing his ground, bewildering Buss much of the night. He’s come a long way on defense. Fourteen points, but a very long night for Tuttle.

— Harrell, actually getting a couple of breaks to rest, accumulating 14 points, six rebounds, two blocks and an assist, still energized at the end.  Very much so.

— Jaylen Johnson finding six minutes of playing time, playing like he belonged, three points, three rebounds, earning more playing time when it counts most, for him, for UofL. A late bloomer, someone else Rick Pitino can count on, he’s going to be good one, and sooner than expected.

— Snider continuing to grow at point guard, commanding respect from his teammates, becoming a fourth scoring threat, adding 10 points, the little guy also emerging with four rebounds.

A new sense of cohesion, a sense of purpose binding this team together, they are own biggest fans, with a new body language. They’re setting their sights high, enjoying winning and having fun, more than ready for any scary scenarios.

Rick Pitino’s favorite time of year

Rick Pitino celebrates his second NCAA championship at community celebration in 2013.
Rick Pitino celebrates the University of Louisville’s third NCAA championship at the community celebration in 2013.

Few people thought the University of Louisville basketball team had a shot against Virginia this season.  No one who knows Rick Pitino, however, was shocked that he was able to get the win, or that the winning shot was made by an unlikely player. He had his players prepared.

Even fewer people believe UofL has a shot at capturing its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament this week. But Pitino lives for these opportunities, always setting his sights for the upper limits, the tougher the competition the better.

“We could possibly play North Carolina, Virginia and Duke if we were to be successful and get to the finals,” he said during his Monday press conference. “That, in itself, really, really has got me very excited, because that’s about as good as it gets.”

Louisville is 2-3 against the three schools this season. splitting with North Carolina with a one-point loss at Chapel Hill and a 10-point win at home, splitting with Virginia, a five-point loss in Charlottesville and two-point win at home, and an 11-point loss to Duke on a bad shooting day at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Cardinals have already proven they can play with the ACC’s best. A few bounces, a couple of shots, some key rebounds and officiating calls affecting the outcomes, as always. Could have been better or worse, but competitive nevertheless, always something upon which to build and improve.

Pitino’s system, as difficult as it is to comprehend, is designed for March runs. He has faced greater odds going into this year’s post season. His 2011-12 team, for example, was 22-9 going into post-season play, but reeled off eight straight wins, winning the Big East Tournament and getting to the Final Four before losing in New Orleans. A Final Four appearance was the last thing anyone expected from that team.

Whatever this team’s weaknesses, UofL has two future NBA players in the starting lineup in Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier. While refining their personal skills, Pitino should have convinced both of them by now that their professional prospects are enhanced by embracing the team approach.

Pitino lives for this time of year, unparalleled as a motivator, able to get his players, regardless of perceived basket I.Q., skill levels and experience, to buy into his system. He does that quite well, having participated in the NCAA tournament 19 times, compiling a 51-17 won-lost record, seven Final Fours with three different schools and two national championships.

Success this year could be one of his greatest challenges, given the calibre of some potential opponents. But no one will be too shocked if Pitino finds his way back to Indianapolis.

Skies finally clear, Louisville shuts down Kent State 5-0

UofL fans line up outside Jim Patterson Stadium for a late night game.
UofL fans line up outside Jim Patterson Stadium for a late start in the NCAA.

University of Louisville baseball fans entering the stadium were greeted by lots of long faces from departing Kentucky fans. The start of first game was delayed by 20 minutes and interrupted by rain twice, dragging on interminably before UK drops a 10-6 decision to Kansas.

The worst possible exit for the fans in blue, headed for the losers’ bracket, unusually quiet, but Louisville fans, painstakingly polite, eager to get to their seats for the second game. Kyle Funkhouser would finally get to the mound around 9:20 p.m., over three hours past the scheduled start time.

But there were zero indications that the late start had any effect on Funkhouser who would allow only four hits while striking out 10 batters in eight innings in a 5-0 win over Kent State, improving his won-lost record to 13-2.

Louisville would jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning following a walk to Kyle Gibson, a single by Cole Stugeon, a sacrifice bunt by Kyle Solak. They would push runs two across after the Kent State shortstop fumbled an Alex Chittenden-hit ball.

At one point Fundhouser retired nine batters in a row, including 12 of 13 batters in the first four innings. He would give up a couple of hits in the eighth, but reliever Kyle McGrath, pitching in his second game since coming back from an injury, would shut down the Kent State bats.

The game would finally end at 12:18 a.m. Anthony Kidston, a sophomore right-hander with a 7-0 record, will start against Kansas at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Kent State-Kentucky game is set for 2 p.m.

Northwestern dynasty survives Louisville lacrosse challenge

Louisville-LacrosseKellie Young (center, with blonde ponytail) had some words of encouragement for members of her University of Louisville lacrosse team after their 11-8 loss to Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament at Evanston Sunday.Headshots - Coaches & Staff

Northwestern has won seven of the last nine national championships in 10 straight trips to the NCAA. In other words, the UofL lacrosse team was competing against a dynasty. 

The year’s trip was the first for the Cardinals but certainly not the last — as Northwestern can attest. Kelli Young’s program has come a long way in six seasons.

With its impressive play in the NCAA Tournament, the UofL lacrosse team wedged itself into the collective heart of many Louisville fans.