As this gritty, patchwork band of Cardinals fitfully evolves into something resembling a formidable contingent -- let’s call ‘em The Little Team That Could -- there’s been a singular noticeable missing element.
The guy who many projected in advance of the campaign would be the leader. He was even chosen a captain by his peers.
VJ King, of course.
In the Cards last two victories, their best efforts of the campaign, including yesterday noon’s gutty 70-65 checkmate of the Kevin Willard’s Pirates, King’s PT has noticeably diminished.
And yet, lost in the rehashing of Saturday’s win in a hostile road environment, might very well be the moment that could turn King’s season around for the better.
King was on the court for but five de minimis minutes before the break. Then played 2:24 relief minutes early in the 2d, during which he grabbed a rebound, committed a foul and turned the ball over.
His moment came later.
The Cardinals, who had been down by 9 earlier in the second stanza at the 13:52 mark, 43-52, had, as they seem wont to do, fought their way back. Which retrenchment began with a Ryan McMahon trey. Yes, kids, we’ve seen that video before.
King returned to the hardwood with 6:03 to play. During that stint he made his mark. Two defensive rebounds. An assist on Christen Cunningham’s three that knotted the affair at 59.
On U of L’s next possession, after the ever present, 39 minute man Dwayne Sutton grabbed one of his team leading 9 boards, King did what he hasn’t been doing all year.
No looking this way and that, no jab steps to his right then left, no musing what to do, he got the rock and aggressively drove the ball into the paint. Dare I say he muscled the ball to the hoop. Most important, he finished.
61-59 Cards. Eight seconds later King was back on the pine.
Yet, it was a lead Louisville never relinquished.
Cards fans can only hope King’s combative interlude is a harbinger of play to come.
* * * * *
Yesterday’s may be the damnedest box score I’ve ever perused.
Sutton was the only double figure scorer, with 12, all tallied in the first half.
But, all ten Cardinals who played, scored. 12, 9, 9, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 4, 2.
Sutton lead the team in rebounding with 9, 5 coming after intermission.
But each of the ten Cards who toiled grabbed a board. 9, 6, 4, five with 3 each, 2, 1. The team snared 5.
All but one Cardinal had at least one assist. Yet, that guy, Steven Enoch was the only player without at least one turnover.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the paradigm of “team effort.”
The Cardinals were again battered underneath. -20 in the paint. They were -15 in points off turnovers. They were outscored 3-11 to start the second half.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the paradigm of “finding a way to win.”
* * * * *
Pirate coach Kevin Willard is most definitely from the Rick Pitino School.
Seton Hall came out pressuring the ball full court, as well as grabbing and clawing on D as long as the zebras allowed them to do so.
U of L was discombobulated. But clawed its way back after calming down in the raucous environment.
Sutton hit a couple charity tosses. VJ King -- Where have we heard that name before? -- hit a J. Malik Williams netted a bomb, then The Catalyst -- Dwayne Sutton -- drained two triples.
After some weak-kneed breakdowns against Tennessee and Marquette, the Cards have forged some steeliness. Christen Cunningham’s starting to take charge more, and the team is staying steady when it matters.
With a visit to Bloomington a week away, and a visit from the Cats on the horizon, this season is getting interesting.
-- Seedy K