Louisville’s Mahmoud, Spalding looking to have some fun in return to Rupp against Cats Friday

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By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Having grown up in Cairo, Egypt, Anas Mahmoud was about as isolated from the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry as he could possibly be, but it didn’t take long for him to grasp the importance of the feud on both sides.
 

”The fans do most of the work for us,” UofL’s senior center said. “You’d be surprised how much I hear. Our fans telling us how much it means to them and Kentucky fans saying stuff like, ‘UK will finish the season for you.’ At the end of the day we do it for our fans, and I love the competition.”


Four years after his arrival on campus, Mahmoud is one of the two “senior citizens” on Louisville’s roster – the other being point guard Quentin Snider – who will be making their second appearance in Rupp Arena when the Cardinals (10-2) take on No. 16 UK (9-2) at 1 p.m. Friday on national TV (CBS).


Their previous trip didn’t end well, although they narrowly missed an upset with a 75-73 loss in 2015. In fact, the Cards haven’t beaten the Wildcats in Rupp since a 69-62 win on New Year’s Eve, 2011. So will Mahmoud try to educate the six freshmen on Louisville’s roster about what to expect from a fired-up Big Blue crowd of 24,000-plus? UofL’s only previous true road game this season was a 66-57 defeat at No. 14 Purdue on Nov. 28.

UofL’s Mahmoud (Kentucky Today photo)


”I can tell them all I want, but until you go there and experience that, you can’t realize what it’s like,” Mahmoud said. “Purdue was a really tough place, loud, really nice, but when it comes to rival games it’s always fun. They will figure it out. What they have to do is have fun and play basketball.”


That’s the same approach being taken by junior power forward Ray Spalding, who was a freshman in 2015 when No. 15 UK escaped as Damion Lee (27 points) missed a potential, game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.


”Very frustrating to lose that game,” said Spalding, who had three points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.” It was a great experience, though, and I look forward to going down there again and taking it all in.”


His message to UofL’s newcomers?


”Just love the moment. Live in it, experience it. It’s once in a lifetime. It’s crazy to be part of it and play in that rivalry game. It will be fun.”


For Mahmoud, the most fun outside of a victory, would be continuing his reign as a shot-blocking force. The 7-footer, who has a wingspan of 7 feet, six inches – about the same length as that of a bald eagle – said before the season that his personal goal was to lead the country in blocks, and he’s well within reach of that ambitious target.


Mahmoud has blocked an average of 4.33 shots per game, second only to Marshall’s Ajdin Penava, a 6-9 junior who is averaging 4.92. Penava is the leader in total blocks with 64 to Mahmoud’s 52, which is third behind 6-10 Minnesota senior Reggie Lynch’s 55.


After getting three blocks against Grand Canyon Saturday night, Mahmoud claimed he didn’t know where he stood on the nationwide rankings.


”I have no idea where I am on the chart right now,” he said. “I know I’m averaging over four, but I have no clue where that puts me. Honestly, I have no idea.”


Mahmoud needs 76 more blocks, or 3.6 per game counting UofL’s remaining 19 regular-season games and at least one game in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, to tie Gorgui Dieng’s school single-season record of 128.

UofL interim coach David Padgett said Mahmoud is similar to Dieng in that both players are exceptional jumpers off one foot.


”Anas has exceptional timing,” Padgett said. “He does a good job blocking shots when his man is trying to score, but he does an even better job when he comes off the ball to help. He and Gorgui jump much better off one foot. They do a good job of letting the offensive player release the ball, too, before they go after it.”


With the 6-10 Spalding – who has a 7-4 wingspan – contributing 2.3 blocks per game for a total of 28, the Cards are second nationally at 8.4, behind leader Michigan State’s 8.8. The former Trinity High School star also leads Louisville in deflections, although Padgett wasn’t sure of the number, just that it’s in double figures.


”He has a natural instinct around the ball, a ball-hawk,” Padgett said. “He erases a lot of mistakes because of his athleticism and feel for the game.”


At the current pace, the Cards would set a record, surpassing the 6.97 blockers per game during the 1982-83 season when Charles Jones led the way with 82 rejections.


After UofL blocked 10 shots by Albany last week – nine of those by Mahmoud – coach Will Brown credited the Cards’ knack for blocking without fouling as a crucial factor in their success.


”The timing is impressive,” Brown said. “They really don’t foul on their blocked shots, and that’s hard. A lot of kids swing wildly, and Louisville does a good job of making sure they don’t foul.”


That may be true most of the time, but Brown’s comments were somewhat ironic considering that Spalding was limited to 16 minutes in that game by foul trouble and had only one block.


Come Friday, there’s no question that the ability of Mahmoud and Spalding to avoid foul problems and protect the paint will be a key factor in whether or not UofL can beat UK for only the third time in the last 11 years.


Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

 

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