Category Archives: Jason Sheehan

Kentucky Sports – A Message to Louisville Fans: It’s Not Time to Panic

One would think that a team with a 15 – 3 record and a number ten national ranking would be sitting pretty.  If you take the pulse of the fan base for Louisville right now you would get a mixed bag.  Some think the wheels are falling off after U of L’s third loss of the season, 63 – 52 to fourth ranked Duke.  Others see the Cardinals in the NCAA tournament, but void of making a long run due to their offensive woes.  Some even think that head coach Rick Pitino is not doing a great job of coaching this season.  A simple message to Louisville fans:  It’s not time to panic.

Photo by Jason Sheehan
Photo by Jason Sheehan

Louisville’s three losses have come at home against top ranked Kentucky (58 – 50), at No. 18 North Carolina (72 – 71, and at home against No. 4 Duke (63 – 52).

The common theme in all three losses was the Cardinals’ inability to hit shots.  They shot less than 30 percent against both Kentucky and Duke.  Louisville shot the ball well against North Carolina (47.5 percent), but made only one of their last seven field goal attempts after leading 69 – 64 with 4:05 left in the game.

Three-point shooting has been horrendous for the Cardinals (29.4 percent) as they rank 320 out of 351 teams.  They are on pace to be the worst three-point shooting teams in Louisville history.

Shooting woes have not been the only cause for concern.  The inability to get much production from the center position has been a nightmare.  Mangok Mathiang, Chinanu Onuaku, and Anas Mahmoud have all started for the Cardinals, but Pitino still does not have a go-to-guy due to their limitations.

In his second season with U of L, Mathiang was thought to have been the one to take over the center spot, but has failed to do so on a regular basis.  He gets pushed around down low and has failed to improve his offensive game.  On the positive side he does provide energy and is one of the harder working players on the team.

Onuaku started at center early in the season and had some bright spots, but his energy and his youth have plagued him.  Pitino often mentions the “process” in getting Onuaku to play at higher level, but does see the upside and the talent he brings the game.

Mahmoud has been perhaps the most surprising of the three.  He has also had some bright spots, but is just too physically weak for top-level competition.

The bench has not produced for the Cardinals, leading to the starters playing increased minutes.  Louisville will need a couple of players to step up and give them some solid minutes off of the bench.

Local talk shows are loaded this past week with callers questioning what is happening with the team.  Fans always seem to have an answer as to what is going on and how to fix it.  I will leave that up to Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach to figure it out.

In many ways fans can be pleased to see so much scrutiny played out.  After all, the Cardinals have been to two Final Fours, a Sweet 16, and have won a National Championship in the last three seasons.  They are the winningest program in the country over that same time span.

The 2012 and 2013 seasons both came with certain points that left fans shaking their heads and wondering if they were potential championship teams.  The 2012 team made it to the Final Four before losing to the number one overall seed Kentucky 69 – 61.  They had two horrible stretches in that season.  The first was losing five out of seven games including a 90 – 59 blowout at the hands of unranked Providence.  Then came the end of the regular season where they lost four of six games including a loss that had most people believing this team would never make a championship run.  A 58 – 51 loss to unranked South Florida was one of the lowest points during Pitino’s tenure at Louisville.

The tables would turn as the Cardinals ran through the Big East Tournament and beat Cincinnati in the championship game to head into the NCAA tournament on a high note.  They would receive a four seed and advance to the program’s ninth Final Four.

The 2012 team was similar to the current team in that it had trouble putting the ball in the basket.  They finished the season shooting only 42.2 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from three point range.

Then came the magical 2013 Championship season led by Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, and Luuuuuuke Hancock.  For some reason I feel the need to do that to Luke’s name every time it is mentioned.  That team had incredible leadership, but also had moments that left you wondering if this was the team that could win Louisville’s third championship.

Louisville was rolling along to a 16 – 1 record with the only loss coming to Duke, a game in which Dieng did not play due to an injury.  They would achieve the program’s first number one ranking when Syracuse came in to the KFC Yum Center.  Syracuse would pull out a 70 – 68 win and knock the Cardinals out of the top spot.  Louisville would then lose on the road to both Villanova and Georgetown to fall all the way down to number 12 in the rankings.  How could a potential championship team lose three in row during the season?

Then came the infamous five overtime loss at the hands of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in which they were given every chance to win, but just couldn’t do it.  Lesser teams would have folded their season, but this one was different.  Pitino challenged his team to win the final 16 games of the season culminating in a National Championship.  They did as Pitino said and cut only one net down along the way, the Championship net in Atlanta.

There are many questions the current team has just like the past teams, but there is tremendous potential as well.  They have talented players in Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier.  They have veterans in Wayne Blackshear and Chris Jones.  Most importantly, they have a Hall of Fame coach in Rick Pitino leading them.

Maybe this current Louisville basketball team will succeed as the past three teams have and maybe they won’t.  One thing I am sure of is that it is not time to panic.  It is too early in the season.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride and just maybe we can see a run like we have seen the past three seasons.

Men's Basketball – Cold Shooting Leads to Cardinals’ Demise against Duke

You won’t win many games shooting 29.5 percent from the field.  You won’t win many games making only 4 out of 25 three-pointers.  You definitely won’t win a game against a formidable opponent the likes of the No. 4 ranked Duke Blue Devils.

A crowd of 22,791, the sixth largest crowd in the KFC Yum Center’s history, watched No. 6 Louisville simply fail to get anything going by not putting the ball in the basket its 63 – 52 loss.  The Cardinals fell to 15 – 3 on the season and 3 – 2 in the conference.  Duke improved to 15 – 2 and 3 – 2 in the conference.

Harrell - File Photo
Harrell – File Photo

In what was one of the most anticipated matchups in the Yum Center’s history, Duke made the Cardinals beat them by making outside shots.  Coach Mike Kryzewski is not one to employ a zone defense.  His team used a zone as much as he has ever had to use it.  Louisville coach Rick Pitino knows exactly how to play his cold shooting team saying after the game, “We’ll continue to work because Duke is a team that never plays zone and they played us tonight and that is what I would have done if I were in Mike Krzyzewski’] shoes.”

Chris Jones had been playing incredible basketball through the first four games of the conference season.  During those games he averaged 17.5 points and 7 assists while shooting 49 percent.  Saturday was not his day.  He finished with five points and four assists.  He hit on only 2 of his 10 field goal attempts.

Jones picked up his second foul early in the first half after making a turnover.  When asked if Jones’ early second foul affected U of L Pitino said, “It affected us, but…you need three great guards to have a great backcourt… because that happens in a game.  The problem is he lost the ball, got emotionally upset, tried to steal it back, and fouled.  That’s the mistake.   You can’t do that. You’ve got to be a senior. You’ve got to say, `That’s okay. I lost the ball.  Not a big deal.’  Not an embarrassment, but it’s not a big deal.”

Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell were the only Cardinals in double figures.  Rozier scored 17 points, but was 5 – 16 from the field.  Harrell scored 10 points and finished with a game-high 14 rebounds.

Louisville outrebounded the Blue Devils 38 – 32 and held a commanding 18 – 5 advantage on the offensive end.  However, they could not capitalize on second chance points or this would have been a much different outcome.

Jahlil Okafor played like a potential number one draft pick.  Okafor dominated inside and finished with 18 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.  None of U of L’s centers were any match for Okafor as he used his power and footwork to get to the basket any time he wanted especially in the second half when he scored 14 of his 18 points.

Amile Jefferson led Duke with 19 points on 6 – 7 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds.  He and Okafor combined for 37 points and 14 rebounds and missed only 3 shots.

The Cardinals took a 12 – 9 lead early on as Wayne Blackshear drove down the lane and slammed home a monstrous dunk to put the crowd in a frenzy.  It was short-lived as freshman Matt Jones came right back down and nailed his second three pointer to tie the score at 12.  Jones finished with only six points (all in the first half), but both threes were significant in taking the crowd out of the game.

Louisville would never lead again as Duke outscored Louisville 21 to 8 to close out the half with a 30 – 20 lead.

The second half would get no better for the Cardinals as Duke storme out with a 16 – 5 run in the first 8 minutes to hold its biggest lead at 46 – 25.

Louisville now has eight days to work on improving their game.  They will travel to Pittsburgh on the 25th to take on the Panthers.

NOTES:

*Montrezl Harrell needs just two points to reach 1000 points for his career.

*Terry Rozier scored in double figures for the 17th time in 18 games this season.

*Louisville holds a 6 – 4 advantage all-time against Duke.

Louisville’s Starters Lead the Way in 78 – 63 Win

No. 6 ranked Louisville had not played Virginia Tech since the 1995 season.  That was the last season for the Metro Conference.  They met again on the hardwood tonight as now part of the Atlantic Coast Conference.  The Cardinals own a decided advantage in the series by winning 28 of the 36 games.  It would be no different tonight as U of L used an early 15 – 0 run to run away from the visiting Hokies and win 78 – 63.

Photo by Jason Sheehan
Photo by Jason Sheehan

Rick Pitino was especially complementary of his starters, “The first unit guys played really well and passed the ball really well.  They did a lot of really good things at executing, making extra passes, and executing.  Their team was totally overmatched, and I think they worked really, really hard, and I just wanted to make sure that they weren’t embarrassed in any way possible because they worked so hard. It was good that we gave some guys an opportunity, with a big game coming up, to play.  And real, real proud of the way our starters played tonight, they did a terrific job.”

The starters scored 60 of the Cardinals’ 78 points.  Starting point guard Chris Jones was the only starter not to score in double figures, but for the fourth straight game he played like a true leader.  Jones scored only seven points, but dished out a career-high 11 assists with only 2 turnovers.

Pitino was asked what his team has improved on and made a significant statement on how well Jones has played of late, “We played well against Carolina, we played even better tonight.  We’re getting better, and I think it all stems from Chris Jones’ willingness to be a leader and to be a point guard.  I still want to see him take open shots because we need that at times, but he was totally into getting people good shots and running the team and doing great things defensively, real proud of his effort.”

Terry Rozier led U of L with 16 points.  Rozier hit 4 – 6 three-pointers.

Mangok Mathiang started at center and immediately made his presence felt against the outmatched Hokies.  He scored 11 points (10 in the first half) and grabbed 8 rebounds.

Pitino has been in search of someone to command the center position for his team.  He has used all three centers in the starting lineup, but none has stepped up.  Mathiang replaced Onuaka in the lineup and played well, but Pitino cautioned everyone about this performance leading up to the Cardinals’ huge matchup against Duke this Saturday.  He said, “He’s really a power forward.  He can get away with playing tonight, against Duke he’s probably not going to be able to get away with that.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 11 points and grabbed 8 rebounds while Wayne Blackshear scored 15 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.

Now it is on to just another huge matchup for U of L.  First it was No. 1 Kentucky.  Then it was on the road to No. 18 North Carolina.  Now it is No. 4 Duke coming in to the KFC Yum Center this Saturday for a 12:00 matchup.

The matchup between these two heavyweights has some significant history to it.  Louisville beat Duke on their way to the 2013 National Championship and beat them in 1986 to win their second Championship.

NOTES:

*Louisville will honor the 1980 Championship team on its 35th anniversary year of their national title.

*Former Louisville Cardinal great Luke Hancock was in attendance.  Hancock is currently playing professional ball in Athens, Greece.

*Montrezl Harrell needs 12 points to reach 1000 for his career.

Men's Basketball – Cardinals Struggle, but Beat Clemson 58 – 52

I promised the guy sitting next to me at tonight’s game between No. 5 Louisville and visiting Clemson at the KFC Yum Center I would not use any weather related references to the cold shooting displayed by both teams in the first half.  Not that either team was as “Cold as Ice” as Foreigner sang in the 70’s.  Or that they both needed a “Heat Wave” as Martha and the Vandellas sang in the 60’s.

I couldn’t resist the references.  With the temperature hovering near zero outside, both teams put on shooting performances that were below freezing.  The two teams combined to make only 14 of 53 shots in the first half.  Clemson was just slightly better than Louisville by shooting 30.8 percent compared to the Cardinals’ abysmal 22.2 percent.  Clemson led 22 – 18 at the half.

Montrezl Harrell played only five minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul.  At times in the first half Louisville was playing both Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku.  This made it difficult for the offense as neither player had even scored a point in the last three games.  Pitino said, “To be perfectly honest, I am not sure how much we want to throw the ball inside to Mangok (Mathiang) and Chinanu (Onuaku) against the zone.”

UL vs Clemson 1-7-15 Photo by Jason Sheehan
UL vs Clemson 1-7-15 Photo by Jason Sheehan

Louisville coach Rick Pitino was not completely disappointed in the first half saying, “The defense was fine, the offense was killing us. The offense was killing us. Defense was fine.”

The second half started off much better for Louisville.  A 17 – 0 run gave Louisville a 35 – 22 lead.  Wayne Blackshear struggled with his shooting the entire game making only 3 of his 13 shots, however he made a huge three-pointer to begin the second half.

Terry Rozier, Chris Jones, and Harrell helped push Louisville’s lead.  Rozier finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals.  He scored six points during the run.

Harrell finally got involved by scoring five points during Louisville’s run.  The final two points of the run sent the 21,676 fans into a frenzy.  Rozier threw a beautiful lob to Harrell for a vicious dunk.

It has been a long season for senior guard Chris Jones, but he has come out of his season-long slump the past two games.  For the second straight game Jones score more the 20 points.  He finished with 22 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 steals.

Clemson used a zone for the entire game to slow down the Louisville offense.  Pitino commented on how this affected his team saying, “So we need to get better at our zone offense because teams are going to play zone and Bob Valvano asked me, `Were you surprised (that they played zone against you)?’ I said, “Hell I would play zone 40 minutes, why would you play Louisville man?”

Louisville will travel Saturday to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels at 2:00.  This should be a faster pace game as the Tar Heels love to get up and down the court.  The No. 18 Tar Heels are 11 – 4 and averaging 80.1 points per game good for 16th in the NCAA and are number two in rebounding at 45.1 points per game.

Men's Basketball – Jones Leads Louisville to 85 – 76 Win

Louisville Senior point guard Chris Jones has struggled mightily through the non-conference portion of the schedule and the No. 5 Cardinals still began the season winning 12 of their first 13 games.  Coach Rick Pitino had some advice for his point guard saying, “All Chris Jones has to do to be one of the better point guards in the country is listen.”  Pitino said right now Jones is “listening about 70 percent of the time”.

Photo by Jason Sheehan
Photo by Jason Sheehan

Jones heeded his coaches’ advice, listened and had his best game of the season in U of L’s 85 – 76 win over Wake Forest in their first game in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Jones scored 22 points and dished out a career-high 10 assists.  This all came after he was held out of the starting lineup and played only nine minutes against Long Beach State for his egregious flopping against top-ranked Kentucky.

The timing of his solid play was even more significant.  With Terry Rozier picking up his fourth foul with 8:42 left in the game and Wake Forest trimming U of L’s lead to one, Jones decided to turn up his game.  He scored 14 of the Cardinals’ final 21 points.  Many of the shots were with the shot clock running down.

Jones’ shooting has become the overwhelming story of his senior season.   He came into the game shooting 30.8 percent from the field and under 30 percent from three-point range.  Tonight he made 7 of his 13 attempts and 8 of 9 from the free throw line.

Jones was not the only star of the night for U of L.  Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell continued their solid play.  Rozier scored 18 points on 8 of 14 shooting in only 25 minutes due to foul trouble.

Harrell continued to show why he was a pre-season All-American by scoring 25 points and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds.  He owned the first half by scoring 25 points in a variety of ways.  Two three-pointers, follow up tip-ins, and of course two monster dunks displayed his versatility.

Shaqquan Aaron is starting to show how much he can help the Cardinals on the offensive end.  Aaron played 23 minutes and scored 11 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in his most extensive action yet.

Wake Forest gave the Cardinals all it could handle thanks to the career game by junior forward Devin Thomas.  Thomas scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on 11 of 14 shooting.  The only problem with his game was his inability to put the ball in the basket with nobody guarding him.  He finished 9 of 17 from the free throw line.

Louisville improved to 13 – 1 while Wake Forest fell to 8 – 7 on the season.

Louisville returns to the KFC Yum Center on Wednesday night for a 9:00 tipoff against Clemson.

Rozier Leads Louisville to 63 – 48 Win

It has been a soul-searching past several days for the No. 5 ranked University of Louisville basketball team. How would they respond after their 58 – 50 loss to top-ranked in-state rival Kentucky? Would a new starting lineup help propel the team along? Would the team get out of its offensive rut or continue being, as Rick

UL vs Long Beach St - Photo by Jason Sheehan - Midwest News & Sports
UL vs Long Beach St – Photo by Jason Sheehan – Midwest News & Sports

Pitino called them after the Kentucky game, “offensively challenged”?
Pitino decided to start freshman Anas Mahmoud and Shaqquan Aaron in place of Chinanu Onuaku and Chris Jones. Mahmoud started off strong for the Cardinals, scoring the first four points of the game, one of which was a nice jumper from 15 feet.
Mahmoud’s biggest impact came on the defensive end as he blocked two shots and altered several others making the Long Beach State players think twice about coming in the lane. Pitino was asked about starting Mahmoud and said, “I don’t think we have been getting anything out of our five spot and we tried playing him when we simulated Kentucky and he kept getting pushed out of bounds. We knew Kentucky, Duke, and maybe two or three other opponents are not for him. But we are hopeful we can get some more strength on him. We are hoping by the 15th we can get him up to 210 (pounds) and then up to 215 and then at least he can hold his own but he is the best passer, shot blocker, shooter that we have. It is just that he is very weak. It is Gorgui (Dieng) as a freshman, now I do believe he will become one of the more talented big guys I have coached, it is just that he is weak.”
Shaqquan Aaron struggled in his first start of his young career. Aaron failed to score in only five minutes of action. However, it was another freshman that helped lift the Cardinals. Quentin Snider came off of the bench to give the Cardinals a much-needed spark. Snider connected on two threes and finished with six points and two assists in 26 minutes. He also helped team up for the play of the game late in the first half when he grabbed the ball off of Mahmoud’s block dribbled down the floor and flipped threw a lob to Montrezl Harrell for a monster dunk. This was all part of a 15 – 0 run to put the Cardinals up 34 – 19 at the half.

Aaron will be looked upon to help Louisville as they start ACC play, but it may take some time according to Pitino. Pitino explained it this way, “You have heard the expression about one weak link on a chain, the fence falls apart. We have eight open links, eight guys that don’t understand what we do. We have four that do. So we have to close the links up week by week. Shaqquan is one of the links that doesn’t have a clue. He has never seen all this switching and all this talking and all this, it is foreign to him so he can’t go out there and play like a normal freshman and just get by on a lot of desire. So it is tough on him.”
Chris Jones had started all 12 of Louisville’s games this season, but was held out of the starting lineup for the first time. Many thought it was because of his poor offensive play, but according to Pitino it was not. Pitino had this to say about Jones not starting, “I didn’t start Chris not because of his shooting percentage, I didn’t start him because of the flop issue. I was very upset at that. We don’t do that type of thing and then to fake it with the jaw like he got hit. You can’t fake it, in junior college you do it, but it is on TV and you can’t fake those things and I told him you are not playing because of that incident, that is something Louisville guys don’t do.”
Terry Rozier was the star for the Cardinals finishing with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assist, and a career-high 6 steals. Rozier’s shot was falling from the outside as well. He hit three of his seven three-point attempts. It was a great all-around game for Rozier coming off of a 5 for 18 performance against Kentucky.
Montrezl Harrell finished with 16 points, but grabbed only three rebounds in 35 minutes. Harrell has struggled the past two games after coming off of a one game suspension for fighting against Western Kentucky. Pitino said, He’s in, right now, a little bit of a drought for him, but I think that suspension bothered him a little bit and it knocked him out of whack a little bit.”
Long Beach State finished a brutal five game road stretch in which the played in order – San Diego State, Texas, St. Johns, Syracuse, and then Louisville. They lost all five, but played tough in several of them losing by one to San Diego State, ten to Texas, and keeping the game close in Louisville before losing by 15.
Coach Dan Monson spoke about the tough non-conference schedule saying, “We know what we need to work on now. We play these teams and they show us our deficiencies. We’ve got to be a better ball-handling team.”
Louisville finished the non-conference portion of its schedule at 12 and 1. They now get prepared to face a very difficult ACC schedule. The Cardinals will travel to Wake Forest Sunday for their first official ACC game.

NOTES:
*Louisville shot over 50 percent from the field for only the third time this season finishing at 51.2 percent.
*Louisville has improved its shooting from the free-throw line over the last four games, connecting on 86-of-110 for a 78.2 percent clip.

Michael Dyer ineligible for the Belk Bowl

Louisville senior running back Michael Dyer has been ruled academically ineligible and will be unable to participate in the Cardinals’ upcoming game in the Belk Bowl against Georgia.  The University of Louisville issued the following statement regarding Dyer:

University of Louisville senior running back Michael Dyer was ruled academically ineligible and will miss the Belk Bowl versus Georgia on Dec. 30 in Charlotte, N.C. Dyer, who transferred from Auburn in 2013, was the second-leading rusher for the Cardinals this season, appearing in nine games. A native of Little Rock, Ark., Dyer rushed for 481 yards and five touchdowns this season. He missed the first three games of the season with a thigh injury. He rushed for 173 yards and a score versus NC State and 134 yards and three touchdowns against Florida State. The Cardinals will depart for Charlotte on Wednesday afternoon.

This is very disappointing news for a young man who has had a rocky collegiate career.  Dyer’s two years in Louisville were marred by injuries.  He seemed to come into his own midway through this season by rushing for 173 yards against North Carolina State and then 134 yards and three touchdowns against then No. 2 Florida State.

Although this is a blow for the Cardinals, the cupboard is not bare in the backfield.  They will rely on Brandon Radcliff, L. J. Scott, and senior Dominique Brown.

Each of the three running backs bring something to the table.  Radcliff leads the Cardinals with 648 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.  Freshman L. J. Scott rushed for 126 yards in his most extensive action of the season against Murray State.  Dominique Brown was supposed to be one of the leaders in the backfield, but has seen his playing time slip by getting only one carry in the last five games.  He did lead the Cardinals with 143 yards in their inaugural game in the ACC against the Miami Hurricanes.

With No. 1 Kentucky Looming, Cards win tune-up, 80 – 55

Rick Pitino said in his post-game press conference that he was “feeling sick tonight”, but one guy that definitely wasn’t feeling sick was Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear.  He led the Cardinals with a career-high 31 points on 11 of 17 shooting and 6 of his 11 three-point attempts as No. 4 Louisville rolled over Cal State Northridge, 80 – 55.

Blackshear has been a streaky shooter his entire career, but tonight he was on from the beginning.  He hit his first seven shots and scored the Cardinals’ first 13 points.  He nearly outscored the Matadors by himself in the first half scoring a career-high 23 points.  Louisville led 36 – 25 at the half.

The Matadors, coached by former Louisville assistant Reggie Theus, kept the game close up until midway through the second half in which they trailed by only eight points.  Louisville then closed the game on a 29 to 12 run.

Coming into the season, rebounding was considered to be one of the Cardinals’ weaker areas.  Through the first 10 games Louisville ranked 10th in the nation in rebounding margin at 10.3 per game.  The absence of Montrezl Harrell (one game suspension for fighting) was surely felt in the rebounding area as the Matadors tied the Cardinals with 36 rebounds.

Three-point shooting has been a significant cause for concern through the first 10 games.  The Cardinals came in to the game shooting only 27.5 percent.  They were 11 for 27 against the Matadors.

Blackshear was not the only hot shooter from outside for Louisville.  Surprisingly, rarely used sophomore David Levitch, came off of the bench to hit three of four from three-point range and finish with a career-high 9 points.  “David Levitch was unbelievable. He gave us a big lift in terms of what we were doing. He made the shots and that was nice but he knew what to run, said Pitino.

Anas Mahmoud continues to see more and more playing time and seems to be putting it to good use mainly on the defensive end.  He blocked three shots and altered several others.  He also corralled seven rebounds.

Louisville sits at 11 – 0 and can now start thinking and preparing for No. 1 Kentucky coming in to the KFC Yum Center this Saturday for a 2:00 showdown.  This will be perhaps the most anticipated regular season showdown in the series’ history.

UK continues to roll with win over Louisville

UK vs UL Boxscore

Louisville Can’t Solve Kentucky’s Defense, Lose 58 – 50 – So far this season No. 1 Kentucky has won all 13 games it has played.  None of the Wildcats’ opponents have been able to solve the suffocating defense Kentucky has played.

No. 4 Louisville became the latest victim.  Kentucky held Louisville to 25.9 percent shooting and just one assist.  The Cardinals made only one of their 14 three-pointers.

Neither team set the nets on fire during the first half.  Kentucky was just 10 of 27 and Louisville 6 of 28.  Kentucky led 22 – 18 at the half.

The referees seemed to let the teams play in the first half calling a total of 11 fouls.  This seemed to cater to Louisville, but the Cardinals just couldn’t make enough shots.  They were in Rick Pitino’s words, “offensively challenged”.

“I’ll tell you the truth. We missed about eight to ten easy shots. That’s a credit to them, but also we’re a little offensively challenged. We’ve had this problem the whole year. We’re working very hard at it.” Pitino said after the game.

The starting backcourt for Louisville, which many considered their biggest strength, struggled to get anything going.  Terry Rozier and Chris Jones were 2 of 13 in the first half.  Jones missed all six of his shots in the half.

The second half would not get any better for Rozier and Jones.  They combined to make only 8 of their 33 attempts for the game.

With a number of NBA scouts in attendance, many wanting to see how Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell would perform against NBA caliber opposition, Harrell did not have his best game.  Harrell scored nine points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Pitino made his game plan clear saying, “We wanted to go in to Montrezl Harrell as much as possible, but they did a very good job denying it. Their length is pretty incredible.”

This was a matchup of the two top defensive teams in the country.  Kentucky’s defense was great the entire game.  Louisville’s was just as solid for most of the game however, Kentucky’s depth wore the Cardinals down.  Pitino said, “We’re an excellent defensive team, although we had 18 deflections in the first half, only seven in the second half and they shot 47 percent. Their size really wore us down. We don’t have much of a bench right now. Getting (freshman forward) Shaqquan (Aaron) back, that’ll help us. They don’t have to worry about foul trouble, they’ve got a bench that can wear you down with their size. I think they wore down our defense in the second half.”

As is the case in a number of rivalry games, the stars you expect to shine are not always the ones to shine.  With Harrell’s and Willie Cauley-Stein’s struggles (five points and four fouls), Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis was the star of the game.

Ulis controlled the game in a way starting point guard Andrew Harrison could not.  Harrison scored three points and committed six turnovers.  Ulis, on the other hand, scored a season high 14 points and committed no turnovers against a tough Louisville defense.

Pitino gave glowing reviews after the game on Ulis saying, “I think he’s a great basketball player. He’s probably, you know, because they have so many bigs, but he’s a true point guard who makes people better. I’ve loved him from the moment I started watching him. I do think he’s a great point guard. That’s a program that you can build around having a great point guard.”

This was Louisville’s first loss of the season in 12 games.  It is not the end of the world as some fans would believe.  It is a tough loss, but the season is still early.  Where do they go from here?  Only time will tell.  They have questions to answer just as all teams have when they lose a game.

The Cardinals return to the KFC Yum Center on Tuesday December 30 to face off against Long Beach State.  Game time has been moved up to 4:00 to accommodate the football team’s bowl game against Georgia at 6:30.

NOTES

*The attendance for today’s game of 22,812 was the third largest in the KFC Yum Center’s history.

*Louisville’s total of one assist was the lowest of a ranked team in 19 years.

*The game’s total of 108 points was the fewest in the modern day portion of the series.

Rick Pitino Post Game Comments 

Kentucky Stays Perfect in 58 – 50 Win – Prior to Kentucky’s top five matchup against in-state rival Louisville, coach John Calipari made sure to let us know that this was the Wildcats’ first true road game of the season.  And this is just not any road game, this is the road game of Kentucky’s most hated rival – Louisville.  There would be 22,000 plus, the majority of which would boo and yell at anything in blue.  How would his young team handle the vitriol that comes with this rivalry?

They handled it pretty well in front of the third largest crowd (22.812) in the history of the KFC Yum Center.  Fans saw the top ranked Kentucky Wildcats suit up against the No. 4 ranked Louisville Cardinals in a matchup of heavyweights.  It was Kentucky that would hold on the longest and deliver the knockout punch in a 58 – 50 slugfest.

The young guys and the most unexpected were the ones to handle it the best.  Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker combined to play 54 minutes and not commit a single turnover against Louisville’s vaunted pressure defense.  They combined to score 23 points.

Ulis’ performance was made even more important with the struggles of starting point guard Andrew Harrison (three points and six turnovers).  Ulis made several big shots in the second half, but more importantly controlled the game for the Wildcats.  Calipari said of Ulis, “He was really good today. That’s the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve coached him.”

The physicality of the game was evident in the first half as Ulis took an inadvertent elbow from Chris Jones.  Ulis patched it up with two thin bandages and then led the Wildcats to victory.  Calipari had this to say on what attracted him to Ulis coming out of high school, “His competitiveness. He can make a difference in the game even at his size, and that’s what you want. He wasn’t afraid of the challenge.”

Devon Booker was known simply as a scorer in high school.  He certainly wasn’t known for any type of defense and according to Calipari, “I did not think Devin Booker could guard the way he’s guarding. In high school, he shot every ball. He didn’t guard much and I thought that would be the Achilles heel.”

Booker helped lead a Kentucky defense hold Louisville to a season-low 25.9 percent from the field.  They held the Cardinals’ starting backcourt of Terry Rozier and Chris Jones to 8 of 33 shooting.  Even the shots that went in for the Rozier and Jones were not easy ones.

Numerous NBA scouts were on hand to see Montrezl Harrell and Willie Cauley-Stein.  Neither of them had their best game.  Harrell finished with nine points and eight rebounds while Cauley-Stein was saddled with foul trouble and finished with only five points.

Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns were also not fazed by the crazed atmosphere.  Lyles finished with six points and four assists.  Towns scored ten points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Louisville native Jennifer Lawrence was on hand to watch this matchup from Tom Jurich’s suite at center court.  She knows a thing or two about good acting (Chris Jones), as well as a good performance all together.  This was not Kentucky’s most complete game, but it did show that this defense can take this team very far.  Will it take them to perfection on the season?  Who knows.  They have certainly solidified themselves as the number one team in the country.

Kentucky will be off until it returns to Rupp Arena on January 6 to face off against Mississippi at 7:00.

Coach Calipari Post Game Comments

Harrell gets ejected, but Cardinals hold on to win 76 – 67

The Louisville Cardinals first played Western Kentucky in 1926 when the Hilltoppers won 28 – 27.  Today’s game was the 78th game between the two games with Western Kentucky surprisingly holding a 39 – 38 advantage in the series.  Western has won only three times in last 26 games against Louisville dating back to 1961.  It would be hard-pressed to find a more intense game between the two teams that what we saw in front of a packed house in E. A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green.

The No. 4 ranked Cardinals came in winners of their first nine games and playing their first true road game.  They knew this would be a difficult test and that is exactly what they got.

Montrezl Harrell was in control of the game in the first half, scoring 14 of his team’s 28 points and grabbed six rebounds.  However, he was ejected from the game with 38 seconds remaining in the first half for throwing an elbow at a Western Kentucky player follow a loose ball scramble on the floor.  After the officials reviewed the play, Harrell was assessed a Flagrant-2 foul.

Assistant coach Kenny Johnson filled in for Rick PItino after the game said this about the Harrell ejection, “Anytime you – you always talk about keeping a level head, no matter what the environment may be. Montrezl owned up to his part in the mistake. That’s what happens in life as well as basketball, you make mistakes. In his mind, he was trying to protect himself so he could stand up properly. He owned up to it, and we had to fight without him.”

After all of the dust settled, it was Terry Rozier who showed up in a big way.  Rozier was seemingly unstoppable in the second half finishing with a career-high 32 points to go along with his five rebounds and three steals.

At one point in the second half Rozier scored 17 consecutive points during a 10 minute and seventeen second stretch.

Several players had strong games in Harrell’s absence.  Anas Mahmoud played 23 minutes off of the bench and finished with six points, grabbed five rebounds, and blocked three shots.  One of his biggest plays of the came after Western Kentucky scored to make it 69 – 64.  Mahmoud cut down the lane and received a pass from Anton Gill and slammed it home to put the Cardinals up 71 – 64, showing why coach Pitino sees huge potential in him.

Anton Gill’s shot still is not where it needs to be, but Pitino has stressed that he needs to do the other things well to get more playing time.  Today’s game was case-in-point.  Gill scored only five points, but grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot in 15 minutes of action.  His three-pointer with 6:45 remaining pushed Louisville’s lead to 10.  He made two big free throws down the stretch after making only three of his first nine on the season.

Free throw shooting has been Louisville’s achilles heel this season so far.  Today they finished well above their season average 60.4 percent, hitting 26 of their 30 attempts for 86.7 percent.

  1. J. Price led Western Kentucky with 24 points, but made only 7 of his 19 attempts. D. J. Clayton was the only other player for the Hilltoppers to score in double figures scoring 14 points off of the bench.

With the loss, Western Kentucky falls to 5 – 5 while Louisville improves their record to 10 – 0.

Louisville returns to the KFC Yum Center Tuesday night at 7:00 to take on Cal-State Northridge.

NOTES:

*Terry Rozier’s 32 points were a career-high.

*Rozier’s 11 free throws made and 13 attempts were both career-highs.

*Shaqquan Aaron dressed for his first collegiate game, but saw no action.

*This was Rick Pitino’s 950th game coached in college