During the first media timeout of the second half, after the Cards had started the period with a 9-2 run to push their lead to 46-28, it was time for Smile Cam, yet another timeout commercial diversion to confirm that U of L hoops is nothing if not bought and sold.
There on the big screen framed by the sponsoring info was a fellow dressed in Cardinal red, leaning back in his seat, his hands clasped behind his head, his eyes half closed. As Sean Moth started to gig the dude in a friendly way — “Hey, this is SMILE cam” — the fans paying attention started to titter.
Though the fellow seemed oblivious, the camera didn’t move.
When he finally realized he was the object of attention, he still didn’t smile or change his expression, but gave a halfhearted wave, as if to say, “Yeah, whatever.”
What a perfect metaphor for the evening.
Louisville pushed out to a 10-0 lead on 7 points by Mangok Mathiang and a Donovan Mitchell trey. Louisville netted its first five shots, while the visitors started 0/6. By the time the relatively small, late arriving, unenthusiastic crowd all got to their seats, it was 21-4.
More people were then checking Facebook on their phones than watching the action.
* * * * *
The ho hum 23 point victory came in another of these December scrimmages against overmatched foes that have become the norm in the Yum! era.
There were a few moments — operative word: few — worth mentioning. Other than that, there’s just not much to talk about.
Matz Stockman drained a nifty turnaround deuce to push the lead to 19-4. Then covering his spot on the press at midcourt like concrete road block, he forced the Saluki dribbling toward him to lose the ball out of bounds.
With 3:18 to play before the break, ever steady Ryan Mitchell on a give and go threw a beautiful one-handed hook pass to Ray Spalding for an emphatic point blank two. 35-18.
On the next Cardinal possession, Mitchell hit Deng Adel with a three quarter court Lamar Jacksonish bullseye for an easy fastbreak layup. 37-18.
Which positive sequence was followed immediately by a negative one to end the half. A spate of bad U of L passes and turnovers, led to an 8 zero Southern Illinois run to cut the visitors’ deficit at the break to 11.
Jaylen Johnson’s second half hustle was best exemplified, when he went to the floor for a tieup at 46-30. (Sure enough he wasn’t rewarded. The visitors got the rock because of the possession arrow.)
Tony Hicks played a steady intense game, without doing anything spectacular. Though, for my money, I’d give those minutes, most of them anyway, to McMahon.
Finally, with a bit over six minutes until the buzzer, Spalding pilfered the ball from Mike Rodriguez at the Salukis’ FT line, and took it the length of the court for a slam. By that time, the crowd was thinning out, and those that remained sounded more like a murmuring gathering of Bats fans at Slugger Field, than a college basketball audience.
(I’m not mentioning the lack of enthusiasm by the Cardinal faithful in attendance to denigrate them, only to emphasize how little fervor there was in the gym.)
* * * * *
So this ’16-’17 edition of the Louisville Cardinals remains an enigma.
Flashes of gorgeous, flowing offense are offset by short possessions of quick, ill-advised shots.
Periods of lock down D, are counterbalanced by other interludes when opponents drive the lane with impunity and are open for uncontested treys. (To be fair, U of L still has the #1 defense in the land, according to numbers guru Ken Pomeroy.)
So, those of us who love the Cardinals are still scratching our heads, wondering what will become of this squad, what shall be its fate?
I’m inclined to say the team still has no identity. And it really doesn’t, but it’s still early, the holiday season is just commencing and Festivus is two weeks and a day away. Few teams across the land have developed their identity yet.
More troubling is that this team seems to lack a personality. It’s impossible yet to figure out what features this contingent shall rally around, who will be the go to guy, what will be the catalyst on those nights when the carburetor is misfiring and needs a shot of premium ethyl?
But, all the aforementioned misgivings notwithstanding, U of L remains a Top 10 squad, with but a single blemish on its record against Baylor, the nation’s big surprise so far.
Two scrimmages against Texas Southern and Eastern Kentucky remain before it gets serious. UK, UVa and IU before the calendar turns. Then a trip to South Bend.
— Seedy K