An aspect worth remembering of the Cardinals' performance in the first inter-squad scrimmage back in October was the evolved play of Ryan McMahon.
Before he was felled with fractured ribs that kept him out of action until Saturday afternoon, the sharpshooting Floridian displayed his intent to be more than just a Dickie V-approved long range marksman.
He hunkered down on defense, exhibiting more passion and, just as important, better footwork and shading technique. Because of the split squads, he was called upon to run the point. Which he did deftly and with maturity. He got the ball to the guys with open shots. His passing was crisp.
To the betterment of the improving Cardinals, all that came with him against the Hoosiers upon his return to the hardwood. Sure, he made a trey, and it rocked the crowd. But, rusty, was errant on his other trio of attempts.
But in his limited eleven minutes of action, he had three assists. One was a beauteous give and curl to Anas Mahmoud, who slid to the hoop, elevated and slammed McMahon's pinpoint delivery through the twine. And again. The play worked so nice they did it twice.
He had two steals. One sealed the game. It came right after the Cards fiddlefarted through a key possession, which was saved when Deng Adel hit an improbable turnaround J to put the Cards up 5 with :41 on the clock. Retreating down the court, McMahon intuited IU's intentions, jumped the lane, stole the pass from Josh Newkirk, and got the assist to Dwayne Sutton for a breakaway layup to secure the day.
McMahon's statline reads that he had a turnover. Ain't so. The play occurred when U of L was down 26-32 in the 1st. The Cards came down with the ball and went into their usual weave. Adel tossed it out to McMahon from the left elbow extended, and drifted nonchalantly toward his spot in the corner. Noticing that no Hoosier was checking Adel, McMahon alertly and immediately laid the ball to the spot his teammate was supposed to be. Deng wasn't paying attention. The feed ended up out of bounds.
Turnover Adel, not McMahon.
Every once in awhile Louisville's Final Four Stat Crew, the best in the biz, makes a mistake.
So, yeah, with Ryan's Return, the Cards backcourt just got significantly deeper.
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Another welcome sight was VJ King showing some life. Operative word: some.
It's still a good thing. With plenty of distance yet to travel.
His numbers were nothing outstanding in and of themselves. And he committed one of the two coulda been fatal turnovers with the Cards hanging on to a precarious 4 point advantage with two and a half to play.
But what I liked is he seemed engaged on defense. It's been far from a given. And on two occasions he drove the ball to contact at the hoop, getting fouled both times.
The most memorable of those came with just under 8:00 to play and the battle still to be won. VJ stole the ball, took it the length of the court for a +1. His maneuver included an homage to home gal prima ballerina Wendy Whelan. He took, uh, a few extra steps after picking up his dribble. The zebras never went to the whistle.
Former Fairdale coach Pinky Gardner turned to me, smiling, and said, "He took way too many steps."
"Pinky, it was a Euro move, they're on the metric system over there. It only counted as a step and a half."
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A couple of significant things happened after the media stoppage at 7:45 of the 1st.
Ray Spalding -- Player of the Game Ray Spalding -- committed his second foul, thus joining fellow big Anas Mahmoud on the bench. Where they both sat until the second stanza.
That scenario is becoming habitual. Trending as it is said in contemporary parlance. Not a good thing.
Yet Spalding, continuing to bust his hump every second on the court, scored 10 on 50% shooting, including a three; grabbed 14 rebounds, six offensive, had two assists and 5 blocks. Anas went for 10 and 7 before fouling out. Oddly, the nation's second leading shot blocker coming in, didn't add to his total there.
The other observation, a lovely sight, was watching the Cards with their bombsights adjusted late in the 1st. At that timeout, U of L was down 10, 13-23, and was 1/10 from beyond the arc.
Then down 15-25, it was fire away. Malik Williams picked the ball off the floor after a fumbled pass. Boom. 18-25. Moments later, McMahon finally connected. 23-27. Then it was Deng Adel's turn. 26-29. At 2:17 before the break: Williams again. Then with a minute and a half before Let's Quaff in the Hallway Time, after a Darius Perry offensive board, Malik bombed another to pull the Cards within a digit, 35-36.
Which was the tally at the break.
(Personal Note: It seems to me all fans have their little quirks that they believe or rely on to help the Cards. Some sort of talisman. A favorite t-shirt perhaps. A mantra to guide in important FTs. A belief which can't be empirically proven but in which there is absolute, unequivocal faith. One of mine: If the game is close, I'd rather be down one than up one at the break.)
Cards 35, Hoosiers 36. All things considered, I liked how the scoreboard read at the break, despite the two empty possessions that caused it.
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David Padgett continues to evolve.
He was significantly more animated and vociferous along the sideline. Cajoling. Admonishing. Encouraging. Pointing. Yelling. Clapping.
Did I see a foot stomp?
The team responds. Such hard in your face antics are, after all, what they're used to.
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IU was ofer downtown in the second half. While the Good Guys canned six more from the checkout counter at the new Duluth Trading store on Main.
Q, continuing to shake off his doldrums, handed out five assists, scored 13.
Adel had 16, but only a single rebound and three turnovers Actually four, see above. Then there was the sequence at 64-56 when he tried to sneak to the offensive end, instead of blocking out his man, giving the Hoosiers a second crack.
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U of L has won four in a row in the series with IU, that now stands 10-9 favor of the Hoosiers.
Loved the "L's Up" flag covering the student section during intros.
Though I hated how many Indiana fans were able to secure good seats in the gym, I admire how they followed their now 5-5 Hoosiers across the Ohio in droves. And, as funky as it looks, I love how many of them were wearing candy stripped pants. It's a unique tradition.
Should I bray yet again how the "legendary peanut toss"/ "Who wants a t-shirt?" timeout buzzkills murder the big game atmosphere? Nah, you've heard it before.
Louisville returns to the court Monday night against something from Rhode Island called Bryant.
-- Seedy K