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:

Snider injury forces Louisville to go with Plan B, whatever that is

Quentin Snider out for two or three weeks. (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

University of Louisville fans were still counting their blessings that Donovan Mitchell was able to return to the game Saturday after injuring an ankle. Wow, that was scary.

The relief was short-lived.

Quentin Snider, UofL’s starting point guard, will be out for two or three weeks because of a strained hip flexor. The drama, the jinx, or the bad timing — depending on one’s particular perspective — is back.

This used to be an annual occurrence for University of Louisville basketball, a key player getting injured. Fans almost came to expect the blows during the early years of Rick Pitino’s tenure.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Snider having mastered Pitino’s system, the best point guard at UofL since Peyton Siva. Six weeks to pull all of the elements together, to make another run for the Final Four, Snider was getting better every game.

Going to be fun to see who Pitino goes with at point guard in Snider’s absence. Will he go with Mitchell or with Tony Hicks, David Levitch or Ryan McMahon? Could he make Deng Adel the shooting guard and fast-forward freshman V. J. King’s emergence? 

A waste of time attempting to second guess Pitino. Whatever solution he comes up with will be unique. That’s just the way he is.

Why Tom Jurich keeps Kentucky on Louisville’s schedule despite the animosity

For whatever reason, Tom Jurich would never seriously consider dropping Kentucky off a University of Louisville schedule in any sport. Never under his watch.

Contrary to some of us who would rather do without all the animosity, Jurich apparently considers UK as indispensable to the lineup of opponents. Probably because the games between the teams are always among the best attended, attract maximum media exposure, and are fiercely contested.

Many Louisville fans can still remember the days when Kentucky refused to play UofL in the major sports. As long as the Wildcats didn’t have to play Louisville, they could claim they were far superior and there was no way to challenge that notion. UK was in the mighty SEC and UofL was either an independent or making its way in and out of a half dozen secondary conferences. 

UofL actually needed UK on the schedule in those days, seeking validity, wanting to earn the respect of the Lexington rival. When the teams finally did begin playing each other in basketball and football, and Louisville began to win many of those games, it soon became apparent that gaining the respect of UK fans was not possible.

The basketball series, of course, is still considered the most heated in the rivalry. This despite the fact that UK has won eight of the last nine games, including four straight over the Cardinals. John Calipari and his NBA prep factory owning Rick Pitino over the past decade.  Games between UofL and UK women are equally contentious, with Louisville’s Jeff Walz finally breaking a six-year losing streak to Matthew Mitchell this season.

No less intense in football, in which UofL has won five of the last six games. Wildcat fans are still reveling in their team’s 41-38 upset of 11th-ranked Louisville in the final regular season game. That win more important to Kentucky than making a bowl game for the first time in six years.

The baseball stadiums in both Louisville and Lexington are always packed for the UofL-UK games, always tightly contested, integral to the success of both teams. Louisville has owned the series in recent years, winning the last six games between the two teams.

UK fans will never acknowledge that UofL is anywhere close to being on the same level in terms of prestige or competitiveness — no matter how many times UofL defeats them or how many national championships or final fours the Cardinals claim. For that matter, neither will UofL ever give UK fans the respect they think they deserve. 

Kentucky fans consider Louisville as a crime-infested urban area. Many of them have never visited the state’s largest and most prosperous city. A large segment of Louisville fans, on the other hand, consider Kentucky a rural and backward state, ranked near the bottom in many national categories, and a state that relies heavily on Louisville tax dollars to stay afloat.

For these and many other reasons, the rivalry is among the most bitter rivalries in college sports. Those who describe it as a friendly rivalry are, as one friend described them, “art majors,” completely out of touch with the real world.

The rivalry is counterproductive in many ways, often dividing families, friendships, business relationships, and communities. Not good for the state either, creating very real barriers to any real significant cooperation between the state’s two largest educational institutions.

Despite all these negative factors, the rivalry will go on, making life miserable for fans of the losing school, creating even more levels of resentment and animosity. UK and UofL fans live to hate each other.

Tom Jurich knows that will probably never change. Kentucky fans consider Louisville a threat, and that equals respect, whether they ever admit it or not. That’s why UK is staying on the schedule.

Big guys have small impact in UofL exhibition game

University of Louisville freshman V. J. King launches a shot over Bellarmine's Alex Cook (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
University of Louisville freshman V. J. King launches a shot over Bellarmine’s Alex Cook (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

An impressive first half in which the University of Louisville basketball team couldn’t do anything wrong, followed by a second half of putting on the brakes, seemingly to allow Bellarmine to save face. 

Mentor Rick Pitino going easy on former assistant Scott Davenport after seeing UofL race to a 49-17 lead at halftime? Or Davenport peeling the paint off the locker room, motivating his team to keep the score respectable in the second half of the 81-60 loss to UofL? We will never know for sure, but both were completely different teams the final 20 minutes.

Quentin Snider had four assists but UofL turnovers outnumbered assists 12-11 in the exhibition game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Quentin Snider had four assists but UofL turnovers outnumbered assists 12-11 in the exhibition game (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Could it be that UofL may be back to where it was a couple of seasons ago, of having only a token presence at the center position? Former Cardinal Felton Spencer, now an assistant at Bellarmine, providing a reminder that big men often take longer to develop.

Mangok Mathiang and Anas Mahmoud  towering guys, in the 7-foot range, looking all but lost, managing only 11 points and six rebounds between them. Matz Stockman never getting off the bench for some reason. All of the aforementioned playing in their junior and senior seasons.

Really too early to draw any conclusions, especially from an exhibition game. Pitino maybe not expecting his big men to provide any offensive punch at present, wanting them to focus on defense, expecting baskets to come from other areas?

Pitino’s offensive approach has always been pretty much an enigma but it always seems to work out, having already won six conference championships, made three Final Four appearances, and cut down one national championship net during his 15 seasons at Louisville.

Adding to that impressive list of accomplishments would be more likely to happen and definitely much more fun to watch with more contributions from the big men.

 

One CJ reporter assumes the worst about UofL basketball

One of the first rules of journalism, at least when I was in the profession, was to never assume anything. The constant refrain was that assuming anything, rather than verifying the facts, will invariably make an ass out of u and me.

That advice isn’t being heeded by many so-called professionals in the traditional news media these days. Their approach is to cherry pick the information, making use of facts that support a case while overlooking or ignoring anything that doesn’t support their case.

Unfortunately, there are too many instances in the mainstream media these days where it is sorely obvious that reporting is intended to support the ideological or motivational bent of the news outlet. All too often, individual reporters make little or no effort to be objective, actually betraying their training and profession to push a corporate or personal agenda.

Andrew Wolfson keeps UofL on the front page (Courier-Journal photo).
Andrew Wolfson keeps UofL on the front page of the Courier-Journal (Courier-Journal photo).

Sadly that seems to be the case with at least one long-time reporter at the Courier-Journal, namely Andrew Wolfson, who has worked at the C-J for almost 35 years. He seems to be assuming that UofL will be stripped of its 2013 national basketball championship banner.

Wolfson showed up at the press conference on the NCAA notice of allegations last week, seemingly with one thing on his mind — whether UofL would have to vacate all of its wins during the 2012-13 season. The manner in which Wolfson asked the question gave one the impression he would be disappointed if there were any other outcome.

He finally got around to turning in his story Tuesday indicating, sure enough,  that two “experts” who had previously served on the NCAA Committee on Infractions believed that UofL would have to give up the title.  Took him a few days, but he was able to find people who agreed with him. Unable apparently to find anyone who disagreed. If so, they weren’t included in the story.

This despite the fact that the NCAA report did not include any of the following: No ‘lack of institutional control’ at Louisville, which would have been the most severe accusation. No “failure to monitor” against the institution. No allegation that Pitino failed to ‘promote an atmosphere of compliance.’ And no indication that the coach had knowledge of what took place in the dormitory.

Wolfson’s experts, which do include the dean of a law school and an author of a handbook on NCAA investigations, apparently overlooked the omissions. The actually allegations, while serious, would not seem to support further action against the institution or the program than have already been self-imposed — the ban on post-season play in 2016, the loss of scholarships and a reduction in recruiting time.

Wolfson appears to be the lone wolf (pun intended) who seems to have been given quite a bit of editorial license in advocating for further major penalties for the program. Also, he seems to be a little bit out of his league in covering a sports story, especially with such qualified C-J sportswriters as Tim Sullivan, Jeff Greer and Steve Jones already on the case. If there is any resentment of his intruding into their area of expertise, it has yet to surface.

The most likely scenario is that the NCAA would seek to penalize Pitino for failing to adequately supervise or question the activities of Andre McGee. One would expect that to finally dawn on Wolfson and, if he continues to have a role in this story, it will be to dog Pitino with front page stories until the final penalties are announced next spring.

Over the past couple of years, it was painfully obvious that the C-J was out to get former UofL President Jim Ramsey, sicking Wolfson on him at every opportunity, blaming him for every misdeed at the University, hounding him until he was finally forced to submit his resignation. All this to a man who had taken the University to unprecedented new heights in academics, athletics, giving, and campus beautification and expansion.

Jim Ramsey hasn’t been seen much in Louisville since he resigned from the UofL Foundation, reportedly spending much of his time in Florida, far from his home town and his beloved university. 

Don’t be surprised if similar tactics are employed by the C-J against Pitino. The higher-ups at the C-J have obviously determined that the guilt goes beyond the impish activities of Andre McGee and they’re eager to assume the worst about the UofL basketball program.