The dog days of the college basketball season are drawing night, the month of February. Teams that are winning look forward to these days because March brings a reward. Tournament play. Others mired in losing can’t wait for the season to end.
The University of Louisville (2-17, 0-8) is a team that continues to slide. It’s like a broken record. Same old same. Play hard for about 10 minutes and the roof collapses, leading to still another bad loss.
The Cardinals are on a break now. They will have gone seven days before taking the floor Wednesday night at Boston College (9-11, 3-6), 9 p.m. I asked coach Kenny Payne what will his team work on during off time.
“Great question,” said Payne following the Cardinals eighth straight loss last Wednesday to Pittsburgh. “My heart tells me. Don’t lighten up. Make it hard. This is not going to be … run a few plays like a walk through. There is a standard, I tell the players this all the time. This is how when I know I’m doing the right things.
“When I hear guys say I’m dreading going to practice that’s when I know it’s the right thing. I need them dreading to come to practice. I need them to understand their bodies need to be prepared to perform at a high level. We’re not going to have a practice that we just do some easy plays,” said Payne. “That ain’t happening on my watch. You need to believe we are going to get better every single day. We’ll deal with tomorrow when it gets here.”
Time is getting shorter. The Cards have 12 games remaining and one in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
“I can say there are games when we’ve had good starts. We look like we got it (winning attitude). We make mistakes. You look at the way we played early (against Pittsburgh)” says Payne. “I see us being aggressive. The problem is, the question is, how do we sustain? How do we mentally get focused enough, discipline enough to not make constant mistakes. Break down drive layup. Break down three. We talk religiously about shot fakes, gets guy in the air. Guy not within five feet of him. That is something we can’t do.”
Can the Cards win any games? “One thing that gives me faith is the kids keep trying. We are having tough practices. I have 25 text messages saying we are going to win this game. How do you (players) feel, do you think we can win. If one single person doesn’t that’s a break down. Every single person that has a jersey has a job to do.”
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Pittsburgh Coach Jeff Capel saw some positives with this team. I thought coming in this is a team that is fighting and battling. Their size and rebounding ability and (El) Ellis is scary. He can score in bunches.
“I talk to Nolan (Smith) a lot and Kenny is a friend. Just stay positive. Try to create the culture you’re trying to create. When you take over these jobs it’s hard but especially teams in this league. It’s especially (hard) if you take over something that was broken.
“I know Kenny is a good coach and has a good staff. I know it’s harder especially when you take over one that is broken in this league.”
While wins have been few, Capel sees a difference. “Last season these young men in this program went through a lot. That can be really difficult on their psyche. Trying to change habits. That’s why I was impressed with their last four games. It didn’t seem like they quit.
“When we played Louisville the second time (a 65-52 loss) at that time it looked like a group that had quit in that second half,” said Capel. “I haven’t seen that in this group this year.”