Orlando a good place to begin the recovery for University of Louisville basketball, reeling from the loss to an arch rival, the loss of Chane Behanan, and the redshirting of Kevin Ware.
The home of the Citrus Bowl Stadium, the good vibrations lingering from the UofL football team’s 36-9 rout of Miami on Saturday in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Perfect destination at the right time.
The wonder of Walt Disney World, with all the fantasies of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, places where dreams come for children of all ages. A place to enjoy the moment, begin the recovery, get reinvigorated, charged up for what lies ahead.
For a few moments in the first half, UofL fans were reminded about a football team that lost its focus after achieving a 28-7 lead over the University of Central Florida only to have its butt handed to it. Rick Pitino’s troops blazed to a quick 28-10 lead in the first 10 minutes before relaxing and allowing UCF to reduce the margin to five points, 28-23, with Isaiah Sykes seemingly unstoppable at times..
Russ Smith wasn’t going to allow a UCF reenactment in basketball, even if he had to squelch it personally. The senior All-America candidate would make two three-point shots and a driving reverse layup, letting it be known the UCF surge was done. UofL was on its way to a 90-65 win.
Smith, who led all scorers with 24 points and was credited with nine assists, is the leader of this team. He’s been through more than a few challenging times at UofL. He’s back only because he and the NBA weren’t quite ready for each other. He’s got something to prove, a team to lead, multitasking on several fronts.
“It’s on us,” said Smith after the game. “I’m from Brooklyn. What happens there is … it’s on you. You’re either going to make it or not.”
If he can convince some of his teammates on the front line, supporting one of the most effective motivational coaches in the game, Russ and company will again be among the top contenders come March. They’ve got their work cut out for them, however.
Luke Hancock doesn’t need motivating, playing hurt, playing through the pain. At one point in the second half, the ankle injury rearing its ugly head, slowing him to tentative and painful steps, needing time to get back down court. Probably shouldn’t be out there at all.
Before the incident, Hancock had finally broken out of his shooting slump, making good on four of nine attempts, including four three-point baskets. Probably happens more often than anyone except trainer Fred Hina notices but there’s no way Rick Pitino can keep him on the bench. Luke would suffer more if he wasn’t competing.
The team is going to Walt Disney World after practice Tuesday. Tolerating the long lines at the theme park will be another challenge Hancock will overcome.