Louisville CardFile: Notre Dame

Where to start?

Well, we could begin with arguably the gutsiest set out of bounds play in the history of U of L hoops.

Or, a git ‘er done second half performance for the ages.

Or, how a mediocre at best, anemic at worst FT shooting squad shot bester than the best in the land at the charity stripe. (Which nominates me for the award for Best Use of A  Word and its Permutations in a Single Sentence.)

Or, how the Ladybirds overcame serious technical difficulties to prove yet again how their discipline is one of America’s Great Endeavors.

Or, how the Cards didn’t let a mediocre effort at the end of the first, and an even lamer beginning to the second get them down.

Or, how U of L wobbled near the conclusion, but remained steadfast and, following the sage words of Mr. Bunny, “did not relinquish the lead.”

Or, how the guys in the white unis played a single defense all night — man to man — and thwarted one of the best coached, best executing teams extant.

And, time permitting, I’ll get to all that.

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But, first, let’s chat about Mangok Mathiang. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Notre Dame

Louisville CardFile: Wake Forest

Two opportunities presented themselves Wednesday to express my trepidations in advance of last night’s road encounter with Wake Forest.

First came at my weekly lunch with a couple of pals, both Cardinal fans, one of whom played collegiately, albeit in the Ivy League. After we’d chatted about family, friends, Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” the president’s speech, the cockamamie weather, when we’d finished our meal with napkins crumpled on the table, I interjected, “We haven’t talked about what’s really important.

“Tonight’s game is really big. A win against Wake who is anxious for a big win to get into the tourney will be a real positive.”

Later in the day, an old comrade who has moved away to Gonzaga Country wondered on Facebook why U of L was only a three point favorite?

I posted something about the Demon Deacons being hungry, perched precariously on the bubble, better than their record, that it was a conference game on the road which is always a tough task, ending with “A Cardinal win would be HUGE.”

Not that a loss would be fatal, post season seeding is about in position, give or take a seed line, but that with a W, U of L could prove that it’s truly beginning to jell and is a legitimate national title contender.

Sigh.

It was not to be. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Wake Forest

Louisville CardFile: Syracuse

Throw back game.

Throw Down game.

(Donovan Mitchell wins the Dunking Cardinal Look Alike award for his leaping, one-handed exclamation point that put the Cardinals up 86-63.)

And down the stretch they come.

In the last tilt before the final week of the regular season, U of L dispatched Jim Boeheim’s short and under-manned Syracuse Orange, 88-68.

When these teams battled in OT game in the Carrier Dome, the Cards were stalwart early on D, holding the Orange scoreless on their first five possessions. Sunday afternoon, the Cards — with a new starting five which included V.J. King, Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding — were moving their feet, communicating and similarly stingy.

They forced a shot clock violation on the visitors’ first possession and turnovers on two others. ‘Cuse’s only tallies were a couple FTs. They even had to call a timeout two and a half minutes in.

In that last OT victory — Syracuse’s only home league loss this season — U of L scored 4 in its first handful of opportunities. This second time around, Louisville didn’t waste any early opportunities.

Donovan Mitchell trey. Anas Mahmoud follow. Ray Spalding oop slam on a pass from Quentin Snider. Q then netted a deuce, followed by another Spalding score.

Crisp and effective at both ends, Louisville was as sharp as they’ve been all season.

Then they got wobbly, giving up the advantage and falling behind at 13-14. Syracuse held the lead for 2:10, when the Cards grabbed the game for good on a Q threeball for an 18-17 lead with 8:57 to go before intermission.

Aided by an 18-4 run, their lead steadily increased, and stood at 16 at the break, 41-25.

The Orange kept pushing and the Cards lost some focus in the second. But never led by less than 11 after the break.

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So, with only dangerous Wake Forest and nemesis Notre Dame to face between now and Brooklyn and Selection Sunday, what did we learn from Sunday’s fun win? Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Syracuse

Louisville CardFile: North Carolina

Now that’s a setback.

As gritty as this Cardinal team has been playing in recent weeks, it is difficult nigh impossible to beat legitimate national contenders on their home court in the last week of February.

The Tar Heels, many of whom were significant contributors on last year’s NCAA runner up, are nothing if not a legit contenda for the crown.

So a victory last night would have indeed been an upset of consequence.

But, after savoring Syracuse’s delicious victory over Duke on last night’s undercard, I became oddly hopeful. The only ACC team to beat the Orange at home is Louisville. Not only did the Blue Devils fall in the Dome, but so too Florida State, Miami, Virginia along with a few other league wannabes.

So, even though U of L has been winning more with grit and determination lately than excellent play, there were reasons to believe the Cardinals would perform well in Chapel Hill.

But, they didn’t.

And now have lost 10 in a row to ranked foes on the road. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: North Carolina

Louisville CardFile: Virginia Tech

After a quick five zero Cardinal run to push U of L’s advantage to a unusually precarious 77-70, college hoops shivztingest coach Buzz Williams called timeout with 7:41 of destined to be harrowing time left.

During the stoppage, local weathercaster Kevin Harned came on the video board to announce tomorrow’s Fahrenheit. On the the 19th day of what is traditionally Mother Nature’s coldest, nastiest time of the year — February, the cruelest month — it’s forecasted to be 70 degrees in Derby City.

Which, since there’s no such thing as global warming, is plenty damn dumbfounding.

But not as wacky as this berserk reality. At that juncture of the who wants it more battle, the visitors were exceeding that 70 standard with their shooting behind the arc.

They had hit 15/21 long balls. 71%. Gimme a break.

The Hokies ended up 17/26 from beyond the arc. Still an absurd 65%. Of those, 11 were wide open, uncontested attempts. But only two of those came after intermission, meaning the Cards started sticking closer. VT still made 8/12 while being mostly closely guarded in the second.

This marksmanship was produced against the homestanding University of Louisville Cardinals, which coming into the game were 3d in the land in Three Point FG % D. No more. (U of L also was #1 before the game in D efficiency, according to hoops guru Ken Pomeroy. By sundown, after giving up all those long balls, 59% shooting overall and 90 points, Louisville’s rank fell to #5.)

Yet, the Cards prevailed, posting 94, their third largest output of the campaign.

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And how did that victory happen, you might ask? Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Virginia Tech

Louisville CardFile: Syracuse

It is mid February. There are but a handful of conference games left before league tourneys, then the Big Dance.

It is time when legit contenders start to show their steel, when those with true mettle reveal themselves.

Like, for instance, Kansas, which put its grapefruits on display last evening, with an amazing last minutes comeback against West Virginia.

So too, arguably, the Louisville Cardinals, who overcame some serious gaffes, who overcame some most often fatal lapses of fortitude, to survive, summoning a huge league W on the road against Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange.

The Cards prevailed despite the disqualification of their best baller Donovan Mitchell, with the game still in the balance.

The Cards prevailed despite woeful 16/30 inaccuracy at the free throw line.

The Cards prevailed despite committing more turnovers (15) than assists harvested (13).

The Cards prevailed despite blowing a 14 point lead (28-14) in the first half, giving up a 1-11 run before intermission.

The Cards prevailed despite blowing a 7 point lead (55-48) with 2:02 to play in regulation.

The Cards prevailed despite falling behind twice early in OT, then forging ahead by 7 (73-66) with :34 to play in extra time, then giving away all but two points of that advantage with an Orange player at the line for two shots with :02.7 on the clock.

The Cards prevailed despite an absolutely ridiculous foul by the team’s most mature player on a ‘Cuse trey attempt with :13.4 to go in OT.

The Cards prevailed despite what could have been a fatal turnover by its normally rock steady PG with a few ticks more than a minute to go in regulation.

The Cards prevailed despite some gagging late at the FT line, and despite some seriously misguided shot attempts at crunch time.

The Cards prevailed despite the Syracuse zone which pushed U of L’s offense toward mid court the whole evening, and prevented passes to any Cardinals who might be cutting to the hoop when there was penetration.

The Cards prevailed despite the no quit effort by a Syracuse team that really really really needed the W to hope to be handed a Dance card.

The Cards prevailed.

76-72. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Syracuse

Louisville CardFile: Miami

Sometimes one Boom! isn’t enough.

Sometimes it takes a second one, or at least an aftershock or two to overcome more than a bit bumblin’ and stumblin’.

And, Oh My! (Homage to Dick Enberg), did the Cards need some Sly Stone Boom shaka-laka-laka Boom shaka-laka-laka to overcome Jim Larranga’s well-coached Hurricanes by 5 Saturday afternoon, 71-66.

Once down by 14 midway through the opening stanza, the Cards had clawed back to within a digit at 43-44, but wasted two opportunities to take the lead.

Two Anthony Lane FTs out of the media timeout with 7:24 to play pushed the visitors lead back up to 5 at 48-53.

Cue the Heavy Metal Thunder. (A “Seven Nation Army” wouldn’t have been enough.) Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Miami

Louisville CardFile: Virginia

Hall of Fame coach that he legitimately is, Rick Pitino still has smudges on his basketball resumé.

Not the least of which is that but for an improbable, what’s-he-doing-taking-the-shot, dying seconds jumper in the final regular season tilt of ’15 by Mangok Mathiang of all people, RP would be ofer UVa.

After last night’s second half fade away, The Rick and the Cardinals are 1-5 against the Cavaliers since joining the ACC. So, it’s fair to say that even if the Cards had been at full strength, a victory in Charlottesville last evening would have been worthy of inclusion at the Guinness House of Curiosities.

Heck, simply scoring in the 50s against the Wahoos is an accomplishment.

Last night, the Cardinals did that. But, after eerily forging ahead 32-25 on a V.J. King J with 3:04 to go in the first, U of L was doubled up by Virginia the rest of the way, 23-46.

The Cards were similarly unimpressive on the boards, losing that battle by a 1-2 margin, 19-38. The Cards grabbed but six rebounds after intermission.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Virginia

Louisville CardFile: Boston College

Panache (puh-nash): a grand or flamboyant manner; verve; style; flair.

It is a noun rarely used in the sports vernacular, more usually found when some fashion guru with a purple pen is describing the John Varvatos spring men’s clothing collection.

But, ever the rebel, with a mind still a bit hazy from overdoing it in the 70s, I won’t back down. Since it’s the word that came to mind as Mangok Mathiang displayed any number of moves around the hoop in a cruise control 90-67 U of L W on Saturday afternoon in Chestnut Hill.

Jump hook. Up and under. Fake right, go left. Vice versa.

Mangok Mathiang, Silent K, a guy a pundit recently called “a solid third string pivot” — OK, it was me. A center of which it was stated, “he’ll never be a force of consequence on offense.” Yeah, that was also c’est moi.

So, excuse me a second while I take another drink of water to wash down my words and some gristle of crow.

Like a butterfly from a coccoon, Silent K is morphing into Special K.

Which is probably a bit too much hyperbole. But, really now, who saw this offensive, uh, panache coming? Certainly not me.

In 24 minutes of action off the pine, MM canned 7 of 11 shots from the field and both of his FTs for 16 points. Yes it came against Boston College, an eminently mediocre squad with little inside presence . . . but still.

Those shots that he’s short-armed throughout his career are now caressing the board and netting.

And he’s still windexing that glass and playing steady D.

It’s February kids, in the wackiest college hoops season in memory, and another piece of the Cardinal puzzle has apparently found its spot. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Boston College

Louisville CardFile: NC State

There are ever so many things that Rick Pitino does as a mentor that are as good or better than any other member of the coaching fraternity. There are valid reasons other than his sartorial splendor that he’s in the Hall of Fame.

Arguably his best attribute is what he’s been able to do through the years when he’s got enough time to prepare, and the foe has one player who is clearly the team’s star and go to guy and needs to be disenfranchised.

The Rick can fashion a game plan that takes that baller out of his game, out of the ballgame and turns him into a non-factor.

The latest example is State’s Dennis Smith Jr., the best frosh point guard in the land not named Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, or De’Aaron Fox. “A sure first rounder” is what the NBA Draft wags say.

Well, thanks to another boffo game plan and execution, Jr. never got untracked against the Cardinals Sunday afternoon. Hell, he hardly had room to breathe. At the half, his team already down a dozen on its way to a 25 point shellacking, he had but four points on 2/8 shooting.

He had only 6 when the Cards were up 30 at 76-46.

He finished with 8, 11 under his average, on 3/12 shooting. His 6 assists were wiped out by 5 turnovers.

The Cards’ game plan was perfecto. Jr. needed an extra long shower after the loss just to wash off all the Cardinals’ defense.  Continue reading Louisville CardFile: NC State