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.

Continue reading “Rags to riches as Louisville enters Atlantic Coast Conference”

Louisville football reenergized for Russell Bowl, ACC opponent

Feel that wave of excitement sweeping back over the University of Louisville football program. It’s very real.

A gutsy win in overtime over a good Cincinnati team has re-energized the fan base, revving up the fan base for the next step in the program’s development — an appearance in the $2.75 million Russell Athletic Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 28.

The fact that the foe will come from the Atlantic Coast Conference makes the game even more significant for UofL fans, eager to get it started in their conference to be in 2014. As far as the football program is concerned, the Big East and the American Athletic Conference are in the rear view mirror. The third place team in the ACC is scheduled to be the opponent but the conference standings are crowded at the top going into this weekend’s action. According to CBS Sports.com, UofL will play either Miami or Georgia Tech, with Duke as an outside possibility.

Tickets are available, starting at $108 per seat in prime locations in the 76,000-seat stadium through PrimeSports, a premier athletic ticket and travel company, which also offers some nice hotel accommodations, including the team hotel, the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista. Check out the ticket and travel package here or click on one of the Card Game ads (yes, the observer will get a commission).

The University’s seating allotment is primarily in sections 122-139, 222-239. Here’s a seating chart:

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Louisville waits patiently until Big 12 gets its conference realignment act together

Well, here we sit waiting. And waiting. 

Still.

More than a year now since the University of Louisville was first mentioned as a possible candidate for Big 12 Conference membership. One day U of L seems to be a shoo-in, the next day an untouchable. Sometimes the in and out occurs several times during a day. So much doublespeak, so many falsehoods, leaks, red herrings and rumors.

In fact, the conference realignment process often seems more driven by anonymous posters on fan message boards than the professionals overseeing the conferences.

Passed over for West Virginia, with a good football program, a fair basketball program and not much else. Presumably because UofL wouldn’t dump on the Big East Conference to get to the Big 12.

Now Louisville seems to falling behind, per all the leaks and rumors. This time to Florida State and any other team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that wants to get out of there. Clemson, even. A program that won a national football championship 30 years ago but is largely irrelevant in any other sport. Who else? Well, there’s Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, maybe even Maryland.

One thing UofL seems to lack, and it’s a huge impediment in a sport driven by stereotypes, is much of a football tradition. The future with Charlie Strong seems largely irrelevant in the cliques of academicians, TV network executives and former jocks making the decisions about Big 12 expansion. A larger TV market might be helpful but Louisville is among the top 50 and that doesn’t seem to be helping much.

A UofL athletic program so deserving still waiting, among the most financially successful in college athletics, winning conference championships, competing at the highest levels in basketball and a constant presence in NCAA tournaments in Olympic sports, a football program clearly on the rise, with athletic facilities that are among the newest, the largest and of the highest quality, and a growing fan base that is among the most devoted in the country.

The Big 12 knows what Louisville can bring to the conference, that’s why they keep stringing UofL along. But all the foot dragging, procrastination, and indecision has more to do with outdated stereotypes than reality. The old guard is territorial, slow to accept change, and overly cautious, even when opportunity is staring it in the face.

There is no grand plan involving logic or common sense. So we will continue to wait, unlikely to learn our fate until people in the inner circles are backed into a position where they are forced to actually make decisions. There will be a mad rush and anything can happen, contradicting everything that has happened up to that point.

Just wait and see.