The University of Louisville Basketball Program, the Defending National Champions, were on the ropes last night. The Manhattan Jaspers had the Cards in trouble, and Steve Masiello was directing haymakers & combinations. The Cardinal attitude was slipping, confidence was gone, and frustration was fully in effect. It looked like the end of a great season and an early round exit in a failed attempt to defend college basketball’s crown.
Louisville had won 20 of 21 post-season games entering Thursday night’s game between the Cards and Jaspers, and Louisville was able to post such a mark because it had the right attittude & mindset. In year’s past Peyton Siva & Gorgui Dieng were there to steady the ship when things were going wrong. Against Manhattan, Luke’s shot wasn’t falling, Russ took some ill-advised shots on a bad left hand, and Chris Jones was also struggling from the field. The Cards were looking for someone……ANYONE…. who could come in and change the energy.
That person was Wayne Blackshear Thursday night. There isn’t a player on Louisville’s roster who has had a more frustrating season (maybe career) than Wayne Blackshear. But when push came to shove against Manhattan Wayne Blackshear asserted himself. He willed an energy shift for Louisville Basketball. Wayne’s season has been a mystery, Coach Pitino even called it a ‘funk’ in the last few weeks of the regular season. Blackshear has spent the better part of the year on the bench dealing with fouls in the 1st halves of ball games and has scored double digits in just 1 of his last 10 games……and when Louisville needed him for a SPARK in the NCAA’s 2nd Round, Wayne Blackshear provided it.
THAT is leadership. Wayne said afterward: “That’s what a veteran team does. We didn’t rattle, we didn’t show that we were under pressure. We just came together as a team.”
I’ll disagree. UofL was rattled. But Wayne Blackshear wasn’t. He saw a need and filled it. Was Blackshear’s stat line overly impressive last night? No. Wayne had 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals. That’s not what we are discussing here. We are discussing that which is immeasurable: A person’s will to win.
Thursday night may have been a seminal moment for Wayne Blackshear, his career, and for the Louisville Cardinals. Louisville fans and coaches have been waiting for the day that Blackshear would assert himself and play with positive energy in a negative environment. Not only did Wayne do that for himself against the Jaspers, but he pulled his team out of a ‘funk’ as well. Louisville will hope this continues, and what better place to do it than the AmWay(ne) Center, in Orlando, FL.