The suspense is over, the University of Louisville basketball team will not go winless during the 2022-23 season. The Cardinals emerging Wednesday with an unexpected victory, 94-83 over Western Kentucky. Holding on through the last 10 minutes, defying the finger pointers expecting them to fall short again.
Louisville played like some of the teams on which Kenny Payne played during the Eighties. It is what Payne and the Card fans hoped for. “It was great to see this team fight,” said Payne who came into the post game news conference with a towel wrapped around his neck after a post game shower celebration.
“Love the way we played, loved the way we played with toughness and energy and confidence.”
Everyone who played contributed. El Ellis led with 30 points, 10 assists, four rebounds two blocks and a steal. “El Ellis was elite tonight,” said Western coach Rick Stansbury. “He was getting others shots. We couldn’t stay in front of him.”
Kamari Lands added 15 points while J.J. Traynor had eight points and four rebounds. The Louisville bench had 29 to 11 points over WKU’s bench.
Louisville (1-9) led 46-35 at halftime and 63-43 on a Lands basket with 13:52.
Every time Western Kentucky (8-2) made a run Louisville answered. The Hilltoppers got within 90-80 with around 1:30 to play. Ellis and Lands secured the victory, making four free throws to ice the win. The Cards were 19 of 20 at the free throw line.
“That’s not the same Louisville team you’ve seen,” said Stansbury. “They made shots. We couldn’t stop Ellis.”
Payne sent his captains to the press conference. Jae’lyn Withers, Ellis and Sidney Curry. “It felt so great to get that win,” said Ellis. “I felt that in my soul (we’d get this win), everybody played well. Sid Curry you back, what’s up. Proud my guys.”
Curry had good numbers, 10 points, six rebounds. Withers had 10 points, six rebounds, three assist.
“I told our guys be ready to shoot when I get it to you,” said Ellis. “We’ve been working on ball screens. My guys were really good teammates around me, get the ball too them. That’s what I’ve been working on,”
Withers was glad to get a win. “The urgency was a lot higher. The simple fact we needed it bad and to see KP (Payne) get a dub (win).”
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Meanwhile, earlier in the evening at historic Freedom Hall, the UofL women were notching an easy 73-43 win over Bellarmine for its third straight victory, improving its record to 8-4.
Memories flashed back as I remembered Milt Wagner at the free throw line with a and one bonus against Memphis. The final game against Syracuse when Kyle Kuric went off. There were many others.
Louisville did what it wanted in the first half and led 34-8. That was the fewest points ever allowed by a Cardinals team.
“I thought we were dialed in defensively,” said Walz. “We got off to a little slow start offensively. We played a very good first half. The second half we lost a little focus defensively.”
Walz was happy with Josie Williams off the bench who had nine points, five rebounds and five assists. “She and Liz Dixon will give us a good little combination in there once we get in conference play against some true five (centers) players. We’ve playing against a lot of one out and four in or five out,” he said.
“We are continuing to grow. It’s a process. We’re getting longer stretches of good play. Earlier in the year we’d get two or three minutes of goof play. Now were getting five or six minutes at a time. We made the extra pass. Got the basketball to people in areas where they can score.”