When Wayne Blackshear committed his 5th foul yesterday with 4:07 to play, a fellow behind me turned into a Ralph Steadman caricature. Bellicose and frothing at the mouth, he bellowed, “Sit down Blackshear, that’s where the hell you belong, on the damn bench.”
Such animosity is my least favorite trait of ardent fandom. Many take personally play that is less than the stellar standard we expect. It’s as if the guy figures Blackshear is bagging it just to piss them off.
I bring up Blackshear because a) the Cardinal Nation has been expecting more from the Golden Arches All-American than he has delivered so far, and b) one guy’s opinion, the Chicagoan is the X factor on this Cardinal squad that’s still searching for its identity, personality, and success in March.
He is not without game. Yet that talent has not consistently been on display. Most important, the switch can still be flipped.1
At Media Day before the season, I asked Blackshear what he’d been working on this summer?
Yet to come, that remains elusive. I, for one, am not giving up on Wayne Blackshear. It’s not like he’s playing below his talent level on purpose. Besides, if his game clicks into gear, this Cardinal team becomes significantly better.
Yesterday, he tallied a ho hum three points, along with 4 rebounds in only 16 minutes of foul plagued action. He missed the front end of a 1+1 with 6:38, and the possibility that the Cards could take a double digit lead for the first time since the first half.2
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In the halcyon early days of the ABA, then coaching Carolina followed by a stint in Denver, Larry Brown was a stylin’ guy. I mean, the dude wore overalls, and thick raised-hell boots. Very cool.
Yesterday, the seventysomething Hall of Famer showed up in a well-fitted suit with serious drape. His coaching all these decades later remains as bespoke as his apparel.
Undertalented and missing a key component, Brown’s Mustangs remain a really well-coached team. Meaning that a hard fought W over the under-appreciated visitors is not to be dismissed. The trip to Dallas later won’t be a fun excursion.
SMU ranks third nationally in FG% defense, and 6th in the land in FG% offense. I’ll translate that for you. They play good D. They take good shots and make them.
The Cards held the Mustangs to 37% shooting (24/65) and only 2/11 from long range. Louisville hit 25/53 for the game (47%), 11/22 after the break. The Cards were 10/23 from beyond the arc.
Yesterday’s victory, blown big lead or not, was not without its positives.
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I’m of the opinion that FTs will affect which school emerges as national champion this season. Officiating is so schizophrenic that every opportunity at the charity stripe is to be taken advantage of.
With 5:36 to play, leading at that juncture by 4, Louisville had made but 6 of 13 attempted free throws. Several of those misses were the front end of 1+1s. The Cards’ final line on the stat sheet was 11/21. 62.5% at crunch time yesterday was thankfully enough. I doubt it shall be in the post season.
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With 2:03 to play before the half, Louisville led 37-20. SMU outscored the Cards 20-5 over the next 7:11 of game clock.
At which point came the tilt’s critical juncture.
Down a deuce, Mustang Markus Kennedy stood at the charity stripe.3 He missed the FT, but teammate Sterling Brown grabbed the board. He missed the follow. Kennedy snared that rebound but missed the tip. Which miss was controlled by Nic Moore, who also failed to capitalize.
Montrezl Harrell finally took possession off the errant attempt for the Cards. Luke Hancock drilled a trey to extend the advantage to 5. Silent L again controlled a Mustang miss, after which Terry Rozier scored on a second chance drive after Harrell’s third rebound during the important sequence.
Leading 47-40, with a long 13:10 still to play, U of L kept the visitors measured, despite more than a few wobbly moments.
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Russ Smith scored 23, grabbed 5 rebounds and distributed 7 assists. A marvelous performance.
That said, my view is that Luke Hancock was the spirit force behind the W. He also tallied 23. More important, he appeared to prod the Cardinals to the win.
Montrezl Harrell notched 12 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks in as quietly a devastating performance as he’s had in a Cardinal uni.
Louisville was outrebounded by 13. Get used to it. The Rick is going to use a smaller lineup most of the time the rest of the season. Losing the battle of the boards will hopefully be but minor peripheral damage.
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Now for my Earl Cox moment.
With SMU in town, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most disappointing Cardinal L of my lifetime.
Ranked #2 in the land behind Lew Alcindor-led UCLA, the Cards would play on their Freedom Hall home court in the 1967 Final Four, if they could navigate the regional in Lawrence, Kansas.
U of L was upset by unheralded SMU, 81-83.
It was March, 1980, in Indy before I was able to purge the pain.
— Seedy K