Louisville tears before and after win over Georgia Tech

So many tears before and after the game, coaches, players, parents, spouses, girl friends and fans. The final game on the home schedule, time to bid farewell to a special group of players, Senior Night has arrived.

Time to really say goodbye to Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and Dillon Avare. The end of an abbreviated season but one road game away. No NCAA basketball tournament, no ACC tournament, end of the road.

Damion Lee gets a commemorative ball from Rick Pitino for reaching the 2,000 point plateau.
Damion Lee gets a commemorative ball from Rick Pitino after reaching the 2,000 point plateau.

Still much to celebrate for a team that had such low expectations entering the 2015-16 season, so few point-makers returning from last season, picked to finish seventh in the conference, no among the top 45 nationally. The University of Louisville is ranked No. 11 in the country with a 23-7 record and is a half game out of first place in the ACC with a 12-5 conference mark.

Georgia Tech was not impressed, wanting to leave a lasting impression before the 22,043 fans at the KFC Yum! Center, wanting to spoil the farewell party. The lead would change hands eight times before Damion Lee would collect his 2,000th collegiate point on a 3-pointer, giving his team a 37-34 lead, putting UofL ahead to stay.

Louisville would extend its lead to nine points at one point but then went scoreless for five minutes, giving Georgia Tech a second life.

Time for some heroics from Chinanu Onuaku, who could conceivably be in the NBA next season if it’s true the NBA drafts on potential. Stepping to the line with that granny delivery of his, sinking two free throws, capping a night on which he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.

Damion Lee would need to sink two more to ice the game, giving UofL the 56-53 win, salvaging a happy ending and sparring everyone in attendance of many more tears had things gone south.

Louisville basketball misfires, odds of ACC title remote and dwindling

Chances for a storybook ending to the 2015-16 season were lost for the University of Louisville when the school adopted a post-season tournament ban. A season when anything seemed possible, including a bid for a fourth national title.

With chances for another NCAA title going away, the focus shifted to another goal, capturing another big prize. A consolation prize, for sure, but one that carried significant prestige, a potential milestone in UofL history — an Atlantic Coast Conference regular season trophy. It would have been a great addition on Floyd Street, underscoring UofL’s status as one of college basketball’s premier program.

The odds against that happening this season are remote now, with UofL dropping the 75-63 decision at Miami. Those last few minutes closely resembling recent road losses to Notre Dame and Duke, with UofL unable to score and losing its defensive intensity down the stretch. Not a typical Rick Pitino-coached team on the road, losing its composure, losing its way, losing its identity.

One could see chances for an ACC title slipping away late in the second half, with UofL managing only one field goal in the last five minutes. Trey Lewis, who wound up with 13 points, couldn’t buy a basket, missing four field goal attempts during the scoring drought. Damion Lee, on the other hand, closely contained, looking lost, with six points, only two in the second half.

Shots going up from all angles, hard shots, air balls, one hitting the side of the backboard, all predictable misses during those final five minutes. No getting the ball in the paint, not that anyone seemed to be trying, anything goes. No stopping Miami’s Angel Rodriguez, with the never-changing expression, with the predictable crip shot, taunting UofL’s defense, making the hard shots look easy for him.

As a result, it’s pretty clear now there won’t be any new trophies arriving at Floyd Street this season. Not a bad season, with UofL owning a 22-6 record overall and 11-5 in the AC, some nice highs but more than a few lows. A couple of games remain — against Georgia Tech at home on Tuesday and against Virginia on the road Saturday. Virginia on the road can’t be much fun.

A disappointing end to the 2015-16 season, no matter what happens in the final two games.

Louisville basketball teetering with six games to go


A couple of weeks ago it was possible to envision a magical ending for the University of Louisville basketball team this season. My, how the outlook has changed, making it easy to expect a near collapse with six games to go.

The Cardinals were sailing with a 18-3 record, 6-1 in the conference, and on a four-game winning streak. Then came the baffling 16-point loss to Virginia at home, followed by a six-point win over North Carolina. Back on track, anything still possible. Then there was the bleak Friday afternoon when the UofL administration announced the self-imposed ban on post season play.

Rick Pitino saying the absence of post-season play making the remaining nine games much more important, providing extra motivation, trying to have fun, needing to finish strong. That doesn’t seem to be working out with the Cardinals having lost two winnable games out of the past three.

The magic has dissipated, replaced by something resembling a process of simply going through the motions. Fortunate to still be hanging around at the end of games. Six more to go under a dark cloud, each a major challenge in this atmosphere.

The latest loss a 71-66 decision to Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, Louisville bowing after owning an 11-point lead with 15 minutes remaining in the game. Problem was the Cardinals could only manage three more field goals over that span.

— Damion Lee, with three 3-pointers in the first half, unable to hit another until the game was all but out of reach with 16 seconds remaining. Gets his share of points, 13 against Notre Dame, but those dreams of his, of hitting winning shots against major opponents have yet to come to fruition.

— Trey Lewis picked up 11 points. Has yet to exhibit any ability to take over a game, the leadership lacking, the distance between Cleveland State and Louisville becoming too much to overcome.

— Chinanu Onuaku draws a lot of raves from the analysts and some fans expecting him to be headed to the NBA after this season. But he still lacks the ability to stay out of foul trouble, catch a pass from his teammates, and makes making an easy layup really difficult.

Onuaku is the starting center for a good reason but he rarely proves it. He has come a long way, but he is not even close to arriving.

— Quentin Snider not making many turnovers but he’s not capable of making those Russ Smith or Peyton Siva moves under the basket. Frustrating for him, frustrating for his fans.

— There was that blocked shot and subsequent dunk by Matz Stockman to end the first half, but Matz would not return. Thanks for the bright spot, Matz.

One could go on but this observer doesn’t want to add to the negativity. There will be more than enough of that in the days, weeks and months ahead.

As for this season, things had better get better quickly. Maybe a relief when it does end and what may have been a mirage or a crazy dream becomes a tarnished memory.

Damion Lee, Trey Lewis are back, Louisville dispatches Va. Tech

The last place anyone expected the University of Louisville to knock down 12 of 18 three-point attempts would have been at Cassell Coliseum in southwest Virginia. Couldn’t have happened at a better place, UofL would need almost every one of them to outlast Virginia Tech 91-83.

One of those seasons when one never knows which UofL player is going to take over a game. A different player or combination of players every game. A healthy indicator for any team that wants to be among the serious contenders in March on a team coached by Rick Pitino.

No better time for Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to reassert themselves as the leaders on this team, the two post-graduate scholars conducting a shooting clinic. Most of the three-point baskets seeming to come when Virginia Tech had come within striking distance, the Hokies refusing to roll over time after time. Scratching and clawing their way back in the game down to the final 20 seconds.

So much for Chinanu Onuaku’s six straight double-double games. The Hokies got him in foul trouble early, just as Pitino had predicted they would. Any time a Virginia Tech player got close to Onuaku, the whistles were instantaneous, as if there were some sort of bounty to be collected.

Anas Mahmoud came back down to earth in this game, managing only four points. Give Mahmoud credit, however, for three early blocks that put an end to Virginia Tech’s early dominance. The Hokies raced out to a 20-12 lead before Mahmoud started plugging up the middle. He would have some defensive lapses later, but he helped his team turn a crucial corner.

As well as Damion Lee and Trey Lewis were playing, Louisville also had to have Jaylen Johnson’s best game in a Louisville uniform. Johnson would score 11 points, including one 3-pointer, and he have nine rebounds, three assists and a block. Fortunately, he was able to return to the floor after twisting his elbow backwards near the end of the game.

Damion Lee would hit six of seven three-points attempts and 11 of 12 free throw attempts to lead all scorers with 29 points. Trey Lewis would score 20 of his 22 points, including all four of his three-pointers, in the second half.

With the win, Louisville moves to 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Next up is Virginia on Saturday, and North Carolina on Monday. Going to be fun seeing who emerges in those games.

Pitino lands a bonafide 3-point shooter

High praise from Rick Pitino for Trey Lewis, the newest member of the University of Louisville basketball program:

Trey Lewis will bring 3-point shooting to Louisville.
Trey Lewis will bring 3-point shooting with him to Louisville.

“He is a talented young man with an incredible attitude and his leadership qualities fit perfectly for what we need,” said Pitino. “He’s a point guard who scores, does a good job of getting in the lane, and sets his teammates up well.  Since we’ve played the last four years with two point guards, it’s perfect to continue on that path with our running and pressing style.”

Lewis, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound guard from Garfield Heights, Ohio, is transferring Cleveland State University where he averaged 26.3 points, 2.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game last season. He led the Horizon Conference with a CSU single-season record of 96 three-pointers.

UofL fans may remember him on the occasion of Pitino’s 700th career victory this past season when Lewis scored 24 of Cleveland State’s 33 points in a 44-33 loss to Louisville. He connected on nine of 20 shots that night, including four of 10 3-point attempts.

“This team wasn’t going to lay down,” said Montrezl Harrell afterwards. “They have high-quality players. We saw it in (Lewis).”