LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Louisville's basketball team and interim coach David Padgett got a good look Wednesday night at the version of Anas Mahmoud they're going to need if they expect to be competitive with the upper echelon teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and with Indiana, Memphis and Kentucky still ahead on the non-conference schedule.
After failing to even take a shot three days earlier in a 79-77 loss to Seton Hall, Mahmoud barely missed posting Louisville's first triple double in 10 years, collecting 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots as the Cardinals (5-2) used a big second half to pull away from pesky Siena (2-6) 86-60 in Louisville.
Mahmoud's points equaled his career high, while the rebounds and blocks were both career bests, as were his field goal attempts (12) and baskets (8). It was the most blocks by a Louisville player since Kendall Dartez also had nine in a 56-40 win over Holy Cross on Dec. 7, 2003.
Of course, the seven-foot senior isn't going to put up those kinds of numbers against better competition, but he needs to be aggressive to give UofL a scoring threat in the paint and more rebounding punch.
"Anas was active on both ends of the court," said Padgett. "When he gets the ball in the middle of the zone he is the best passing big man we have. He has a good feel for the game, he lets it come to him and we've just got to continue to work on his being aggressive around the rim."
Padgett lifted Mahmoud from the game to a rousing ovation from the 17,215 fans with 3:38 remaining, denying him a chance at Louisville's first triple-double since Terrence Williams (10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) vs. Seton Hall on Jan. 19, 2008.
Sports information director Kenny Klein informed Padgett that Mahmoud needed only one more block to reach the milestone, but it didn't matter.
"It's a remarkable accomplishment to have nine blocks in a game, but the only stat we're interested in is the final score," Padgett said. "I wasn't going to put him back in the game just to try and get a triple-double."
Mahmoud said he wasn't aware of how close he was to the rare achievement until teammate Ryan McMahon told him during a media timeout. Mahmoud went back out to shoot a free throw, then returned to the bench, his evening's work done. But he claimed it didn't bother him to be taken out of the game with such a tantalizing carrot dangling in the final minutes.
"No, it's DP's decision," he said. "It was definitely a rare opportunity, but maybe it will come around again, you never know."
Know this: Mahmoud wasted no time showing that Wednesday wasn't going to be a repeat of Sunday, scoring the Cards' first two baskets on a dunk and a baby hook. He got only one more field goal in the first half, along with four blocks, but then added 11 points and five more blocks in the second half.
Besides the obvious difference in the caliber of competition, Mahmoud said another factor in his improved performance was that Seton Hall packed its defense inside more and also didn't challenge the bigs offensively in the paint as much.
"I try to play to my best capabilities every time out," Mahmoud said, laughing. "I mean, I don't know. Sometimes it happens, sometimes I play bad."
Despite Mahmoud's strong play in most areas, Padgett jumped on him at halftime for his three turnovers.
"I got yelled at by DP," Mahmoud said. "I played really bad in the first half. He walked in, looked at me and said, 'Are you serious?' Then when I came out of the game, he told me, 'As well as you played, you still had some bad turnovers that aren't acceptable.' So that's something I just have to improve on."
"I didn't think he played that great of a game," Padgett said.
However, Mahmoud wasn't the only victim of Padgett's wrath at halftime. With Louisville clinging to a 39-36 lead against much inferior players, he was upset at the entire team. Siena forces the second-lowest number of turnovers among Division I clubs in the nation at 9.6 per game, yet the Cards had 11 at intermission. They also had surrendered 10 offensive rebounds that led to 10 second-chance points.
"That was as upset as I've seen him," said freshman guard Jordan Nwora, who added that the coach broke a clipboard during one timeout."We had a rough first half," said Deng Adel, who led Louisville with five assists. "We weren't ready to play. Coach let us have it at halftime and guys responded. We came out with a better mentality, attacking more, staying patient in our offense."
Ray Spalding turned in an outstanding all-around performance, getting 10 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and four steals, with he and Mahmoud becoming the first Louisville duo to produce double-doubles in the same game since Montrez Harrell (28, 12) and Terry Rozier (22, 10) against Pittsburgh (69-56) on Feb. 11, 2015.
In all, the Cards blocked 15 shots, equaling their season high against Omaha on Nov. 17. They also had season bests in shooting (50 percent), steals (11) and forced turnovers (21).
You wouldn't know it from the final score, but Siena was within one point, 48-47, at the 15-minute mark of the second half. That's when the Cards shifted into high gear, turning up the defensive heat, creating turnovers and getting out on fast breaks.
They outscored the visitors 18-0 over the next 6 1/2 minutes to break the game open, with all five players on the court contributing to the surge. Siena was finished as UofL extended the run to 26-4.
Siena coach Jimmy Patsos, a horse racing fan who took his team to Churchill Downs Wednesday morning, used a Kentucky Derby analogy to explain the Saints' failure to push the Cards to the finish line.
"We got out of the gate a little slow, had them at the first turn, second turn, just couldn't make it down the stretch," said Pathsos. "By the time we came galloping after a mile and a quarter, we gave it all we had, which is all you can ask. We just got beat in the fourth turn. We just kind of ran out of gas. Our guys are going to compete, but you don't have much room for error against a long, athletic team like Louisville when you're a team our size at our level."
The game was part of the round robin of the Gotham Classic, in which Louisville, Siena, Bryant, Memphis and Albany all play each other, with the Cards' Dec. 16 game against Memphis in Madison Square Garden the marquee matchup. UofL will meet Bryant next Monday and Albany on Dec. 20.
Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.