Familiar script for Louisville women against UConn

The big stage, the bright lights blinding and numbing, the touring actors fumbling their lines, trying to ad lib their way.

Panic time in those first 10 minutes, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team committing nine turnovers, missing 12 of 14 field goal attempts. UConn up 24-6 after the first quarter. Game over.

Familiar script against the Huskies. Starts out innocently enough, with a turnover leading to a quick UConn basket. Between all the empty trips down court for the Cardinals, there is one turnover, another and still another, the Huskies converting all of them into points. 

The outcome never in doubt after the initial surge although the margin was only 11 points in UConn’s 69-58 win over visiting Louisville in front of 10,000-plus. Just another night at Gampel Pavillion where the Huskies have won 76 straight home games.

Some might find some consolation in the fact that the UofL women outscored UConn 38-27 in the second half. They would have to acknowledge that the Huskies were never seriously threatened. Had they been, would there have been still another surge?

Coach Jeff Walz may have convinced his pupils that they could play with UConn after the first quarter, and they did hang around.  By then it was too late, his charges totally unprepared and unequipped to handle the initial mugging.

Lots of talk after the game about the Cardinals having learned some lessons and knowing what they had to work on the rest of the season. You know, just in case they run into UConn during the post-season. 

The Cardinals obviously learned a lot about themselves, absorbing one blow after another to their collective psyche. Pretty obvious that it’s going to take more than just trading baskets with UConn for a couple of quarters to ever seriously threaten the Huskies.

UConn defies the implausible

So I was wrong. No tears in sight.

All’s well that ends well: UConn 60, Kentucky 54.

Unbelievable, the inconceivable run was for real. Implausible it seemed, unimaginable, improbable, unthinkable, mind-boggling.

UConn in the NCAA winner’s circle, cutting the nets, lifting the trophies. Kentucky the runner up, having come together when it counted, coming close, but falling short.

Congratulations to the Huskies, congratulations to the American Athletic Conference, congratulations to all underdogs everywhere.

The Huskies adding to their list of national championships: 1999, 2004, 2011 and, now, 2014.

The University of Louisville basketball program proudly passes the championship mantle to University of Connecticut. Last team standing in 2014.

Louisville sets sights on NCAA after claiming AAC crown

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.48.11 PM

Somebody ordered ladders to be placed under the baskets Saturday following the championship game of the American Athletic Conference tournament. The ladders not needed, a waste of time, in fact, because the University of Louisville basketball team only cuts nets once a year or not at all.

“We don’t cut down conference championship nets,” said Luke Hancock after UofL’s 71-61 win over UConn.

The defending national champions, having won the conference tournament in UofL’s first and final year in the conference tourney, obviously have their sights sets on a much higher goal. They are playing their best basketball as the selection committee meets behind closed doors to set the brackets for the 2014 edition of the NCAA Tournament.

Based on his team’s performance during February and March, Rick Pitino has good reason to believe UofL deserves a No. 1 seed. The Cardinals have won 13 of their last 14 games, many of them going away, five of the wins over top 25 teams.

Not that the No. 1 seed is the be all and end all, but a top seed would indicate that some of the decision makers have been watching the games, paying attention to results instead of relying solely on ESPN’S Joe Lunardi.

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Montrezl Harrell just continued to get better in the championship game, becoming one of those players against which all future power forwards at Louisville will be measured. A singular example of how the position should be played. Never allowing himself to get muscled out or pushed around, he thrives on being in the middle of the action, imposing his will, alway looking to make a exclamation point.

So energetic and dominant Saturday that Pitino let him play 39 minutes. Why replace a player who never gets tired and only seems to get more forceful and stronger as the game progresses? Harrell would turn in a game-high 22 points while claiming 11 rebounds.

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Russ Smith was letting the game come to him, rather than the other way around, but respondiing time after time when UConn begins cutting into the lead.  Seemed to be feeling some after effects from three straight games, with three or four air balls, but still connecting on seven of 18 shots, including one three-pointer, while collecting 19 points.

Smith’s point of emphasis Saturday was on the defensive end, he and Chris Jones totally frustrating  UConn’s offensive rhythm, allowing Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright one three 3-pointer, and holding them to 16 and 7 points, respectively.

No surprise Russ was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after providing of the most spectacular offensive displays seen in college basketball this season over three days.


UConn women may want UofL in NCAA finale again

Humble and hungry.

Another embarrassing loss to UConn for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team, the third this season, this time a 72-52 beating. No contest from the start.

Another lesson in humility for the best team in the program’s history, UofL ranked third in the country going into the game. The Cardinals would emerge with a 30-4 won-lost record, thankful only for a few days to regain their composure.

Have to wonder about the hungry part at times, those times when UConn is the opponent, UofL being reduced to a subservient role once again, offering little resistance.

UConn does has a way of exposing lack of execution and weaknesses, taking full advantage of almost every miscue. Fear and uncertainly play right into their hands. Failing to execute plays results in shooting too quickly, hence all the blocked shots, rim bangers and air balls. Not protecting the ball leads to all those turnovers and steals.

Four seniors on this team probably missed out on any opportunity for UofL to end the losing string against the Connecticut team this year … or any time in the near future. Louisville faces a rebuild next season and moves to another conference. UConn loses only two seniors from this team. Breanna Stewart isn’t one of them.

The odds of meeting UConn again in a national championship game are remote, the only higher odds those of UofL having a prayer of beating UConn in another rematch.

There’s humble and hungry, and then there’s reality.

Louisville dismantles UConn on Senior Day

Luke Hancock is escorted by family and friends for his final game at the KFC Yum! Center.
Luke Hancock is escorted by family and friends for his final game.

Hard to imagine University of Louisville basketball without some of the players who competed for the last time at the KFC Yum! Center in Cardinal uniforms Saturday.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Four of them — Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephan Van Treese and Tim Henderson — playing their last home game as seniors, having compiled so many memories, so many accomplishments, the winningest class in UofL history, including two Final Fours and a national championship.  Providing the leadership for a team that just may putting the pieces together for another memorable run.

Montrezl Harrell, just a sophomore but a co-captain, inevitably putting his name in the NBA draft, fitting in perfectly with his older teammates, bringing so much so quickly for a team that badly needed his enthusiasm and skill set.

Stephan Van Treese
Stephan Van Treese

Big game, emotions running rampant, with the kind of distractions that often affect individual focus and collective composure. Sometimes manifested in overpowering starts and big leads, often fizzling as the game wears on. Like when Louisville jumps out to an early 17-5 lead before a dry spell allowing UConn to cut the margin to eight with three minutes to go in the first half.

UofL’s shooting may have cooled off briefly but not its defensive effort, not allowing UConn’s Shabazz Napier or Ryan Boatright to collect a single field goal in the first half. They would wind up with only nine and six points, respectively while managing only three assists and turning the ball over nine times.

  • Russ Smith, playing in front of several of his high school teammates from New York in the crowd, showing he’s much more than a shooter now, making a rare start at point guard and racking up a career high 13 assists while making four steals. Russ would, believe it or not, take only two field goal attempts, winding up with only three points in the game.
  • Luke Hancock’s three-point shot has never looked better (except in the NCAA championship game). He would hit four of them in a game for the fifth time this season.
  • Montrezl Harrell knows when to pounce, again looking almost unstoppable, with his 20 points — half of them from dunks — and 13 rebounds, his eighth double-double this season.
  • Stephan Van Treese, who demonstrated a pretty impressive post move for the first time ever, would also pull down 13 rebounds. Keep working on that post move, Stephan, a secret weapon could come in handy the next two or three weeks.

An impressive performance 81-48 win over UConn on Senior Day, Louisville wrapping up the regular season with a 26-5 won-lost record. These players have been through a lot in the past four seasons and they’re not ready to say goodbye any time soon.

Russ Smith with his dad (left) and other family members.
Russ Smith with his dad (left) and other family members.