In my excitement over Louisville’s W last night in the balmy clime of Coral Gables, its 4th W in 5 road encounters during its inaugural ACC season, I forgot to stay tuned to WAVE3 TV for Kent Taylor’s piece on ’86 Cardinal star Billy Thompson.
That the station should run a where-is-he-now? segment on the fellow, who led that team to the school’s second national crown, is timely and germane, given the disturbing dynamic playing out this year between a portion of the U of L fan base and senior forward Wayne Blackshear.
Thompson was generally considered the best player in the land, coming out of high school in Camden, N.J.. He announced his college choice on national TV with Al McGuire. The Red & Black faithful had extremely high expectations for Billy T. Which started to wane, during his rookie season, even before he missed a breakaway dunk in the national semis against Phi Slama Jama, a non-score which far too many fans ridiculously felt cost the Cards that game.
Thompson was inexplicably reviled for his “underperformance” the rest of his career. Until, that is, he kicked it in gear midway through his senior campaign, paving the way for that NC2A crown. I specifically remember one fellow who sat behind my father and me at Freedom Hall, who, full of vitriol, as if Thompson was playing bad on purpose just to piss him off, never let an opportunity pass to loudly spew his venom toward BT.
The same type of thing is happening in this, his senior season, to Wayne Blackshear. He obviously is not meeting the expectations of many Cardinal fans, who seem to relish every chance they get to express how little Blackshear does for this team, how “awful” or “horrible” he’s playing, what a “non-factor” he is.
It all seems misplaced to me.
Against the Hurricanes, WB tallied 7 points on 3/5 shooting, grabbed 2 boards, and had 2 blocks. His drive and short J at the 1:50 mark was probably the key score of the game, since it boosted U of L’s dwindling advantage back to 5. His critical, deft deflection in the final minute sealed the game. And, he didn’t even get credit for it in the official box score.1
On a top heavy team, one that features arguably as stalwart a guard tandem as ever suited up for U of L, along with BeastMode Montrezl Harrell — Yeah, that’s right, Marshwan Lynch — fourth option Blackshear is still averaging a steady 11.2 ppg and 4.7 rpg.
As someone, who is trying to move beyond any nascent negativitude, I checked the stats and pulled out the history books for some long term perspective.
Here’s what the Cards’ fourth leading scorer has averaged for the last five seasons.
In ’13-’14: Chris Jones, 10.2.
In ’12-’13: Gorgui Dieng, 9.8.
In ’11-’12: Chane Behanan, 9.5.
In ’10-’11: Terrence Jennings, 9.6.
In ’09-’10: Jared Swopshire, 7.5.
Checking all the way back to the beginning of the Denny Crum Era, which is, what 43 seasons ago more or less, only eight times has the fourth leading scorer averaged more than Wayne Blackshear is this season.2
Blackshear does play somewhat passively, I acknowledge. From my media day conversations with him before both this season and last, I observe he’s a really thoughtful kid, but one who lacks confidence. Which manifests itself in some games, where he simply doesn’t muster the eye of the tiger.
But, on a team where guards Terry Rozier and Chris Jones handle the ball and think score 90% of the time, and where Silent L is inclined to be not so silent both under the boards and firing perimeter shots he shouldn’t even consider, Wayne Blackshear fits.
Wayne Blackshear contributes.
So, one guy’s opinion, Wayne Blackshear does not deserve the spittled enmity he’s getting.
* * * * *
Before a raucous throng of 6,563 — they’ve got different standards for hoops in the Everglades — the Cards opened each half, as if they’d spent too much time in South Beach.
To open the game, there was a throw away, a missed driving layup and follow shot.3
Here’s how the Cards, with a 9 point halftime advantage, played its first five possessions after the intermission. A missed Rozier jumper. A missed Mangok Mathiang layup. A TR turnover. A Chris Jones missed J. A Chris Jones offensive foul.
Fortunately, and thanks to strong Cardinal D, Miami was equally pathetic, failing to take advantage on its first five possessions, the last of which ended, when, ahem, Wayne Blackshear took a charge, allowing Jones to score the first points of the half on the ensuing Louisville set.
It was rocky all the way in the second stanza. Musta been too much sun. Or, too many Mimosas? Or, both?
After stretching the advantage to 13 at 41-28 on a Harrell jumper, Louisville surrendered two straight threeballs to Davon Reed.4
What saved Louisville, as it has all the time during this strange, successful season, was defense. One of Rick Pitino’s best traits as a coach is the ability to fashion game plans that take away the scoring of an opponent’s leaders. He did it again last night. Angel Rodriguez (Who laid 24 on Florida, 25 on Virginia and 24 on Duke in Cameron Indoor) and Shelden McClellan weren’t allowed to get going, scoring but 6 points each.
Given the talents of Rozier and Jones, U of L’s inherent spurtability was again a factor. After being outscored 2-9 by a ‘Canes’ mini-run, cutting the lead to six, and forcing The Rick to call a timeout with 4:52 to play before the break, the terrific twosome answered.
Next three O possessions: Terry Rozier deuce. Chris Jones deuce. Terry Rozier nifty baseline drive. Deuce +1. 30-17, Louisville.
* * * * *
The Cards hit 13/18 at the line, and canned enough FTs late to keep the not quite ready to grab the tilt Hurricanes out at sea.
Blackshear and Jones each committed stupid fouls in the last minute, prolonging the game. Thankfully, they came after Miami’s fate was sealed. But still caused smoke to billow from The Rick’s ears.
I have to believe there’s been a game somewhere along the timeline of U of L hoops, in which only four Cardinals scored. But I don’t recall one.
Not only did the bench tally nil, only Harrell scored among the bigs.
The Big Three was Huge.
Jones: 16 points. 8 rebounds. 5 assists. 6 steals. 40 minutes.
Rozier: 22 points. 6 caroms. 3 steals. 38 minutes.
Harrell: 18 points. 9 boards. 2 blocks. 39 minutes, despite taking an eight count twice, hitting the hardwood after taking unintentional body blows.
How alarmingly top heavy are the Cards becoming?
Onuaku, Mathiang, Gill, Johnson, Aaron, Snider and Mahmoud, not only didn’t make any shots, they collectively only attempted three (3). Other than Nanu’s three blocks, the most noteworthy item from that group is that Shaqquan Aaron, for the first time this season, played without a t-shirt under his jersey.
How one on one are the Cards becoming?
Seven assists against 12 turnovers.
But, but, but, but . . . after another road victory, the Louisville Cardinals stand 19-3, which perches them at a spot, generally regarded by both humans and computers, as the 9th or 10th best squad in the land. U of L is 7-2, alone in 3d place, in the ACC.
Upcoming: Gut check time at Monticello.
— Seedy K