Magic at work, with UofL still having shot at ACC crown

^^ Keith Oddo bows out with 3-point buzzer beater – Mike DeZarn photo ^^

Coach Chris Mack huddles with David Johnson and Dwayne Sutton during the University of Louisville’s final home game at the KFC Yum! Center (Mike DeZarn photo).

Nothing more magical than a nylon-ripping three-point basket at the buzzer. Coming from a University of Louisville graduate transfer walk-on with less than nine  minutes of playing time and zero points for the season.

The delightful wizardry provided by Keith Oddo who had to be surprised he was even in the game. But it was Senior Day and this was his last game. Thrilled that Coach Chris Mack would call his number with 1:05 on the clock. No hesitation after David Robinson finds Oddo alone in the corner, no time to think, nothing but net.

David Johnson making his way through the Virginia Tech gauntlet for a basket (Mike DeZarn photo).

Just the thing the crowd of 18,104 at the KFC Yum! Center needed to close out UofL’s 2019-20 home game schedule. The win improving Louisville’s record to 24-6 overall. More magical is the fact that UofL is in first place in the conference with a 15-4 mark with one game remaining. By a half game over Florida State which has two games left.

The Cardinals may need ever bit of Houdini they can conjure up with their final game of the season coming next Sunday at Virginia. Both teams may have played their best game of the season when they met recently in Louisville, with the Cards prevailing by 80-73.  Virginia has only continued to get better and is anticipating its own special Senior Day observance.

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Louisville women turn lights out on Virginia Tech

^ Kylee Shook for two of her 15 points – Cindy Rice Shelton photo

Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook lead their fellow seniors for a victory lap after their day at the KFC Yum! Center (Mike DeZarn photo).
Bionca Dunham and Yacine Diop battle for a rebound (Cindy Rice Shelton photo0.

Senior Day for the University of Louisville women’s basketball team. Time to officially recognize the incredible accomplishments of a class that participated in a record number of 124 wins over the past four seasons.

Talking about Jazmine Jones, Kylee Shook, Bionca Dunham, Jessica Laemmle and, yes, Yacine Diop, the transfer from Pittsburgh. Having wrapped the first unfettered Atlantic Coast Conference regular season championship during their final season.

Jessica Laemmle in a rare start role, getting her team off to a good start and a lead they would never relinquish (Mike DeZarn photo).

Laemmle, the 5-foot-2 dynamo, getting her first start in a Cardinals’ uniform, connecting on a 15-foot jumper. Those would be her only points, but she had set the tone, with Louisville rolling to a convincing 70-53 win over a very good Virginia Tech team.

Shook with still another double-double, with 12 points and 15 points, plus three assists, a steal and a block. Jones with a game-leading 17 points and three assists. Dunham with nine rebounds and eight points. Diop with eight points and two steals. 

Jeff Walz with flowers for each of the seniors, celebrating still another ACC regular season championship (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The other good news, witnessed by a crowd of 10,423 people at the KFC Yum! Center, was the return of recently injured Dana Evans and Elizabeth Balogun to action. Entering from the bench, Evans would score eight points and make four assists in just over 24 minutes. Balogun with three points in her 15 minutes.  Both on the way to recovery.

The Cardinals would force Virginia Tech into 18 turnovers, earning 21 points over the VT errors, while making only seven turnovers themselves. 

“Our kids did a fantastic job,” said UofL Coach Jeff Walz. “We went into this game knowing Tech could shoot the three point shot, especially Dara Mabley and Aisha Sheppard. We knew that if Elizabeth Kitley gets 30, she would get 30, but we only going to give them two-point attempts …”

Between Mabley and Sheppard would get only five 3-point attempts while making only one of them, contributing only seven points collectively.  Kitley, a  6-foot-5 candidate for ACC freshman of the year, would get 17 points.

Gallery courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton

Deng Adel back in full force as UofL kayos VA Tech

Deng Adel finds his shooting touch when UofL needs it most, connecting on four 3-pointers and 27 points against Virginia Tech (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Now that was the Deng Adel many fans of University of Louisville basketball remember from last season, the consensus player, the one letting the offense come to him, finding open teammates, taking care of the basketball.

Ryan McMahon’s enthusiasm is contagious, especially when he’s knocking shots in from downtown (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The one people feared would be leaving after only two seasons to pursue a professional basketball career, the one responsible for a collective sigh of relief when he chose to return to UofL for his junior year. The same player who disappeared in the first half against arch rival Kentucky this season, the one having problems with so many turnovers.

Deng Adel is apparently back, seemingly recharged and recommitted the past two games, transforming himself, becoming a serious offensive threat inside and outside. Becoming a serious contender on the boards on Saturday, pulling down 11 rebounds. Generously sharing the ball, getting credited with three assists — one, two, three of them.

Adel becoming more comfortable with or buying into Coach David Padgett’s system, embracing the team concept, benefitting himself and his fellow Cardinals. He would connect 10 of 15 field goal attempts, including four of six 3-pointers, to lead all scorers with 27 points.

"It was fun. The best part was just looking at the bench and seeing how hyped the guys were and then just playing together, making sure it's a balanced, team effort."

A new career high for Adel, embracing the leadership role, reaping the rewards in Louisville’s 94-86 win over Virginia Tech in front of a crowd of 16,798 fans at the KFC Yum! Center. Scoring seven consecutive during a critical second-half stretch and making two huge defensive stops.

“It was fun,” he said afterwards. “The best part was just looking at the bench and seeing how hyped the guys were and then just playing together, making sure it’s a balanced, team effort.”

Making his teammates better, Quentin Snider and V. J. King with 19 and 16 points, respectively. Ryan McMahon coming through with two long-distance 3-pointers and 10 points. Adel taking up the slack with Ray Spalding on the bench with foul problems, with Anas Mahmoud having one of those awkward outings.

The Cardinals will take a 13-4 won-lost record and 3-1 conference record to Notre Dame on Tuesday. They will also take a newly-inspired Deng Adel, and a much-improved outlook to a place where they haven’t won a game since 1994.

Mitchell early, Johnson late, Louisville nudges Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech arriving in town with some major aspirations, after knocking off Virginia in its last game, wanting to add an exclamation mark against the University of Louisville.

Jaylen Johnson getting to know his way around the basket lately (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Fired up, driven, with the familiar site of Coach Buzz Williams all worked up on the sideline, shedding his jacket early, changing from suit and tie at half time for a moisture-resistant sweatshirt in the final 20 minutes.

No time for any mistakes, not with Virginia Tech hitting 60% of its field goal attempts, and even better behind the 3-point line. UofL just refusing to wilt, coming away with a 94-90 win.

The visiting Hokies bringing their Barnum & Bailey circus act to town, along with a high-octane offense. They would tie an all-time record for 17 three-point baskets, daring the Cardinals to relax, take a couple of plays off.

Wasn’t going to happen Saturday, not with UofL committing a season-low three turnovers before a crowd of 21,524 fans Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Ryan McMahon with three 3-pointers in the second half (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Donovan Mitchell would take control for Louisville in the first half, connecting on his first six shots, including three 3-pointers en route while leading all scorers with 26 points.

Jaylen Johnson would take over in the second half, cleaning up beneath the basket time after time. He would score all 16 of his points in the second half, making six of nine from the field, and four of five at the free throw line. He would also have eight rebounds.

Then there was Ryan McMahon to the rescue again, making three of four 3-point shots in the second half, helping Louisville to overcome a deficit and take the lead for good.

“I wondered how we could win this game,” said Coach Rick Pitino afterwards. “Making our free throws coming the stretch was big for us. We won this game with offense.”

The Cardinals are tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, converging for a showdown at North Carolina at 9 p.m. next Wednesday.

Virginia Tech never was a team to be taken for granted, very much a threat with tournament time approaching. However, the Hokies weren’t about to slip up on Louisville, not this day, not with so much at stake for the Cardinals.

Rags to riches as Louisville enters Atlantic Coast Conference

Forgive University of Louisville fans if they seem to be walking on air the next few weeks and months. No waking up, shaking their collective head and realizing it was all a dream. They’re living it. A new era in UofL athletics and academics begins Tuesday as the University is officially welcomed into the Atlantic Coast Conference.

To fully appreciate the significance of the move, one would have had to have followed Louisville for seven decades through the various conferences in which UofL has participated during one’s lifetime, seven conference affiliations during that span. Check that. Make it eight now — the ultimate conference, the ACC. Member institutions speak volumes about the quality of the conference — Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami. And, of course, Notre Dame in every sport except football.ACC-logo-with-Louisville-Cardinal-Bird

The premier destination for a program that has competed at the highest levels for decades despite tremendous obstacles, overcoming the stigma of mid-major status in struggling conferences, achieving national respect despite severe scheduling challenges.  Building for the future, investing in athletic facilities second to none, hoping, wishing, praying not to be left out when the final bell rings for conference realignment.

Some really dark days there for a while, more than five years, watching conferences expand and implode, prominent members leaving the Big East Conference, watching a once proud league steadily implode. There would be tantalizing, sometimes conflicting rumors of possible inclusion in the Big XII only to lose out to West Virginia in the end. Any chance of getting into the SEC expansion blocked by a rival university. The ACC said to be beyond UofL’s reach for geographic and academic reasons. Anxious UofL fans scouring the Internet daily dissecting dozens of rumors, parsing official statements, watching and waiting, trusting all the while in the abilities of Tom Jurich to prevail against sometimes overwhelming odds.

Being excluded would have been a crushing blow to fans for whom the University is like a second family. Missing out would surely mean being forever banished to the ranks of the also-rans, getting shut out in the recruiting wars, being relegated to second-rate football bowls, relying on past accomplishments with little odds of seriously being respected in the national polls. The situation was undeniably bleak until the Big 10 decided to expand again in November 2012, extending invitations to Rutgers and Maryland. The ACC needed to replace Maryland. At long last, the gods were smiling on UofL.

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