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Seedy K’s GameCap/ Look Ahead: Grand Canyon & Beyond

Cards win, but still have improvements to make

Context: My purpose here with these game breakowns is severalfold.

To riff about the team I love, of course. To, frankly, offer an entertaining read.

To attempt in some semi-professional way with quasi-expertise to give perspective on the game being dissected, while spotlighting crucial moments and aspects on which the result was determined.

And, most important before I get going on the 18 point victory over Grand Canyon, to observe and offer opinion on what the Cardinals need to work on if they are to be the best they can become going forward.

At this juncture, with the patsies and tuneup tests out of the way, the latter aspect of this endeavor is the most pertinent.

Kentucky awaits in Rupp Friday, after a brief Christmas holiday for the squad and coaches.

Then presenting itself is an ACC schedule arguably as tough as U of L has faced since joining college basketball's best conference. That U of L faces Duke and Carolina just once is hardly consolation. The Cards play every serious league contender on the road, save for the Tar Heels, traveling to face the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor, along with treks to South Bend, Blacksburg, Miami, Charlottesville, and Tallahassee. Plus away games against better than expected Clemson, tricky NC State and Pitt.

The home slate features the defending national champs, 'Cuse and second matchups with the Hokies and Cavaliers.

All together now: Daunting.

Though obviously improving, this Louisville team has yet to fully reveal its legitimate potential, falling in its two Top 25 encounters, besting the rest of an undistinguished lot, sometimes by not so much.

* * * * *

So, briefly to the highlights from yesterday's 74-56 win over the Antelopes.

Ray Spalding obviously. Career high points, 21. Career high rebounds, 16. 3 steals, 2 blocks and an assist. The same energy and focus he's brought all season.

Q's five assists. Dwayne Sutton, ever willing to mix it up underneath, with 5 rebounds in 18 minutes of action. Ryan McMahon, energizing catalyst off the bench, with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, zero turnovers in 14 minutes.

Louisville had a six point advantage at the break, allowed the visitors to score on their first six possessions of the 2d, but never relinquished the lead. It's what's called bending without breaking.

The give (with a hook pass from the guard) and go for a weakside slam continues to be a crowd pleaser.

Against a tall team (GQ starts 6-10, 6-7, 6-6, 6-4, 6-3), Louisville won the battle of the boards, 41-25 (15-12 offensive), going to the glass especially hard late. They were still -1 at a timeout midway through the second.

U of L is increasing its full court pressure, to positive effect. Given the Cards length, trapping in the backcourt and against the sideline and midcourt stripe has become an especially effective feature of its defensive game plans.

* * * * *

Now for the more salient stuff.

Unless Deng Adel and VJ King get their acts fully together, U of L has a better chance of hosting an opening round NIT game than making the Dance.

King has been playing better. But there were several instances Saturday when he wasn't 100% committed to what was necessary at the moment.

The most egregious and simply unacceptable error came right after a Lopes' timeout with 7:11 to go when the Cards press trapped them in the backcourt at the far endline with :03 to get it across midcourt. GC inbounded, throwing an ill advised pass to nobody in the front court.

King was the closest Cardinal to the loose ball. He sauntered prima donna fashion in its direction as it rolled on the floor, while an Antelope hurled himself to the hardwood, and drew a foul from Ray Spalding who was hustling.

Moments later, David Padgett pulled King. He didn't return.

VJ continues to fail to drive to contact when he takes it to the hoop.

That criticism notwithstanding, VJ's game does seem to be maturing. It's just that for the Cards to be successful, he needs to accelerate that process.

I, for one, am becoming increasingly disenchanted with Deng Adel's game.

Yet again, he showed just about zero effort on the boards. One rebound in 32 minutes. Pitiful. Even Q, the point guard, had 3.

Let's get specific here.

After jacking up errant treys on Louisville's first two times with the ball, on the visitors' fourth possession of the game, Adel stole the ball. Instead of getting it to a ball handler -- his dribbling ability is below par despite statements that he worked on it all summer -- he took it end to end, attempted to go left to the hoop and kicked it away.

A few sequences later, as a wing man on a fastbreak led by McMahon after a steal, Adel wasn't spaced properly, and wasn't ready for Ryan's deft feed. The ball bounced around a bit before DA eventually recaptured it and scored.

How could he not be ready for a pass on a fastbreak?

As Intuitive a scorer as Adel would appear to be, the offense doesn't seem to flow as well when he's on the court. Because his defense is mediocre at best, the Cards also suffer at that end.

It's telling to me, that during U of L's game-securing 21-3 second half run, Deng Adel did not score a point, did not grab a rebound, and did not garner an assist. Actually he was pulled midway through that assault, during which addition by subtraction the Cards became more efficient and relentless, adding ten points to their advantage.

His defense late was -- I'll use a phrase I've used before -- matadorian. Once he simply didn't hustle to his man and gave up a breakaway layup. He similarly surrendered a dunk, and yielded an uncontested three.

If you heard a cranky old voice from the upper press area, screaming "Take him out," that was me, violating basic media protocol due to my frustration. I hoped David Padgett pull him and use this game in hand as a lesson.

OK, enough already. You get my point.

For U of L to be good this season -- and school's still out -- Deng Adel has to not only be a scorer, but a rebounding presence and as relentless as Ray and Darius Perry on D.

It's not like he needs to sit. He's not a bad actor or anything. It's just that he needs to round out his considerable game. It will be a sign of Padgett's coaching acumen to see if he can get Adel to ratchet up his focus on defending and rebounding to the same level as scoring.

Should that process commence Friday afternoon, it would be a good thing.

* * * * *

It appears to my eyes that Padgett and his staff are improving by the game.

Early last week, I offered an opinion that U of L should take the interim tag off the coach's position description. You can read it here.

For some perspective on that opinion, consider this fact: After Mike Krzyzewski's first three seasons at Duke, his record was 38-47.

Next: You know who.

-- Seedy K