Only an injury could slow Spalding as he extended his surge in UofL win over St. Francis

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By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Ray Spalding’s junior season got off to a rocky start, but since then he’s looked like a different player, one that should be a major force for Louisville’s basketball team all season in a variety of ways.



In No. 19/18 UofL’s opening 72-61 win over George Mason, Spalding was barely a factor offensively, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, although he made other contributions with seven rebounds and three steals.



Ray Spalding makes a commanding dunk (Kentucky Today/Robi nCornetet)

In the last three games, the 6-foot-10 Trinity High School product has averaged 15.3 points, 10 rebounds and 2.7 blocks, while shooting 57 percent (20-35). And he turned in the best all-around performance of his career in Friday night’s 84-72 victory over St. Francis, Pa. (2-3) in the KFC Yum! Center even though his playing time was cut short by an injury. 



By halftime, Spalding already had a double double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and he was flirting with the first triple double by a Louisville player since 2008 when he suffered a sprained ankle with 10:19 remaining.



Spalding finished with 19 points, matching his career high against Omaha last week, 13 rebounds and five blocks, both of which were career bests. He hit 8-of-10 shots en route to his fourth career double double and second this season. Spalding swished a baseline sky hook at the start, then the rest of his points came on layups or dunks.



”He’s a monster down there,” said forward Deng Adel, who had 13 points and four assists. “Very versatile, gets a lot of steals and deflections. Definitely missed him when he went out and I hope he’s alright. I think he’s okay.”



Spalding walked off the court under his own power and interim coach David Padgett said afterwards that he doesn’t think the injury is serious and that Spalding should be able to play against No. 18/16 Purdue Tuesday night in West Lafayette, Ind.



UofL produced its most balanced scoring of the season with six players reaching double figures. Besides Spalding and Adel, Anas Mahmoud had 12 points (and nine rebounds), Quentin Snider a season-best 11 and V.J. King and Jordan Nwora 10 apiece.

King’s shooting slump continued, with the sophomore forward hitting only 3-of-11 to fall to 8-of-33 on the season (24 percent). He did make a pair of 3-pointers, the first time he has hit multiple shots beyond the arc since Feb. 6 at Virginia.



Snider, who has also been slow to find his shooting touch, improved slightly by hitting 4-of-10 and his six assists were a season high. 



As the Cards have done in other games, they surrendered a big lead against the undersized but hot-shooting Red Flash. UofL led by as many as 22 points, 66-44, in the second half, but saw the visitors pull within 74-66 with 5:34 left before Padget called a timeout and UofL took control again, limiting St. Francis to one field goal the rest of the way.



”It’s a cliche when you say step on their neck or don’t take your foot off the gas, and we definitely did that tonight,” Mahmoud said. “We played the score. We looked up and we were up by 22 and we’re like, ‘okay we got this game.’ We gave up a lot of open threes. It’s something we have to cover; last couple of years we’ve had the same issue.

”

The Red Flash, playing with four guards, spread the court and whipped the ball around until they found an open shooter or drove the lane and kicked it out to the perimeter.

The losers shot 47.6 percent on 3-pointers after entering the game at 28.4 percent.



“They had a lot of spacing,” Adel said. “Sometimes when you’re defending out there it feels like you’re on an island because of all the spacing. They had a lot of quick guards. They got to the rack, caused a lot of help and then made a lot of shots.”



Padgett said he expected St. Francis’ strategy and figured the Cards might have trouble defending against the barrage from the perimeter.



”I had a weird feeling it was going to be a game like that,” he said. “Even dating back to when I played, you play a team that’s small, they’re all quick off the dribble, they do a good job of penetrating and getting into the lane. No matter what you do, it’s tough to keep them in front of you, and they do a good job of spacing and passing. They did some really good things that made it difficult for us. They shot 21 threes, but I bet out of their other 24 shots most of them were long jumpers.”



Padget said Louisville’s first road game of the season at Purdue Tuesday is “going to be really, really tough. It’s going to be an eye-opening experience for the freshmen. We have to get better and be ready to go, because our schedule from this point forward doesn’t get any easier.”



After Purdue, UofL will host No. 20/22 Seton Hall on Dec. 3 and will also face Indiana, Memphis and Kentucky next month before starting its ACC schedule against Pittsburgh on Jan. 2 at home.

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