One way of describing it is the ol’ Yin and Yang from ancient Eastern cosmology.
Yin representing the passive, absorption. Darkness.
Yang, activity, penetration. Positive.
It is essence of the Louisville Cardinals in recent games, as they have shown incremental but palpable improvement, but are still far from where they’d like to be.
In less philosophic terms: The Cardinals dig a hole. Then can’t quite fill it back up.
Against visiting Florida State, U of L gave up scores on the Seminoles’ first four possessions, were immediately down 9 when Kenny Payne was compelled to call a timeout.
Louisville appeared befuddled by the FSU’s D.
U of L turned it over after the stoppage to fall behind double digits.
Later in the opening half, they fell behind by as many as 14, and were on the wrong end of a 45-36 score at the break.
At which juncture, Louisville was -11 on points off turnovers, having committed 6 against the victor’s 1. State kept moving the ball against the Card’s less than tenacious D, and had 6 different players with between 6 and 8 points.
Not much changed immediately after halftime.
U of L missed a shot then turned it over three straight trips before Hercy Miller canned a deuce. Meanwhile State tallied on four of its opening five opportunities, to surge ahead by 17.
Then, U of L, as it does, settled in, tightened up, played some real basketball, and made it a game.
The digging the hole.
They trying to fill the hole.
Still, with 9:12 to play, the Cardinals remained 15 back.
Then it got interesting.
I’ve said it before, and repeat. As much a character trait as it is for these Cards to turn it over to ill effect way too much, they haven’t in recent times folded, continuing to scrap to the buzzer.
Pushed on by a loud and enthusiastic and reliably positive group of fans in the gym, U of L knotted it at 74 on a JJ Traynor slam on an alley oop feed from El Ellis after a strong Mike James rebound. Tied it again at 76 when an Ellis layup attempt was illegally swatted away on the way down to the cylinder.
Then, the play of the game. Jae’Lyn Withers lost his man who scored on a reverse baseline layup on a backdoor cut.
81-78 was the final.
* * * * *
After a boffo opening half, when Kamari Lands led the Cards with 10 on 4/5,/2/3 marksmanship, he only played nine minutes in the 2d, finishing with career high 15 points.
At some interlude in the 2d, I wondered why Lands wasn’t playing more?
Until I realized that the lineup of Ellis, Withers, Curry, James and Traynor was working well. So KP stayed with the five.
When U of L, then down 4, had the ball out of a timeout with :25 on the clock, I wondered again why an aggressive and obviously more confidant Kamari wasn’t back in the game?
But, Payne drew up a sweet play, well executed that resulted in a Syd Curry deuce.
* * * * *
I feel compelled to mention Manny Okorafor.
Even though he had only 2 points and 3 rebounds, with four fouls in but nine minutes of play as context.
He is raw. Duh. But, one guy’s opinion, he will be a force in a year of two.
I’m not saying this is who he will become, but the player from the past he reminds me of is Hakeem Olajuwon. Stick with me here.
We started hearing about Olajuwon during the ‘81-’82 season. Saw him play in person when Houston fell to Carolina in the national semi in New Orleans. I remember thinking, this guy’s not so good. He’s awfully raw.
We know how that played out.
Okorafor has been in the States less than three weeks. He played in Africa against older guys in a rough and tumble league when those arm bar fouls called here are laughed off. There’s a learning curve.
(And, as Smart Guy texted me later, in the Duke/ Carolina game, he’d have been called for none of those fouls.)
In one of his first touches Saturday, he attempted a post up turn, drive and dish to Curry rolling to the hoop. It didn’t work, but it was a play of the future, one we haven’t seen by any of the other Cardinal bigs this season.
His lone score was on a nifty under the hoop double reverse when he didn’t panic while being swarm teamed along the baseline.
* * * * *
JJ Traynor is also improving game to game.
He is playing with much more confidence and assertiveness. As slender as he is, he doesn’t back away from the action underneath, and takes it up strong.
8 points on 4/5 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks.
* * * * *
During a stoppage in the 2d, Peyton Siva was walking by.
Oh, if he and his runnin’ podner Russ could have some individual session with El Ellis, teach him how to see the court, how to get the ball moving, get his mates involved in a spot where they can do something. Teach him how to drive, and sometime, stop and get the ball to open teammates in the corner.
And, for heaven’s sake how not to get so many of his shots off drives blocked at the hoop. Though not listed as such officially, those plays are turnovers.
Until then, Live by the El, Die by the El.
Next: Visits to Steel City and South Beach.
— c d kaplan