Hogs wary of cards in Maui’s opening game

FAYETTEVILLE — The Louisville basketball team is still looking for its first win for new coach Kenny Payne, who heads into the Cardinals’ game against the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks at the Maui Invitational today.

Louisville (0-3) has lost one-point games at home to Bellarmine 67-66, Wright State 73-72 and Appalachian State 61-60.

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“I’ve told our Louisville team that they’re going to have a winning streak and they’re going to have an A-Plus game here in the near future,” said University of Arkansas coach Eric Musselman. “I can guarantee you that.

“I mean, losing three games by a point, they are [six] Points away from 3-0.”

The Razorbacks got Musselman’s message loud and clear.

“A team that’s struggling is going to come out with a lot of fire,” said Arkansas freshman guard Anthony Black. “So we have to be prepared for them to come with their hardest and best punch that they have.

“We have to ignore their record and respect our opponent and develop a good game plan.”

Arkansas (3-0) opened OVERSET FOLLOWS with home wins: over North Dakota State 76-58, Fordham 74-48 and South Dakota State 71-46.

“They’re a completely different team than the teams we’ve played outside of Texas,” Razorbacks senior guard Vomte Davis said of the Cardinals. “They’re a bit like the style with Texas where they have a lot of guys who are athletic and can play for each other and for themselves.”

Arkansas lost an exhibition game at No. 11 Texas 90-60.

“So forget [Louisville’s] record,” Davis said. “It’s a team that wouldn’t be in this tournament if something was wrong.”

Payne, a player on Louisville’s 1986 national championship team, was an assistant to Kentucky while coaching the Wildcats to a 73-66 win in Arkansas in 2020 after coach John Calipari was ejected.

For the past two seasons, Payne has been an NBA assistant with the New York Knicks.

“I don’t even care about the record, and I know that sounds weird,” Payne said while meeting with the media in Louisville before the Cardinals travel to Maui. “Do I think we’re losers? no In no way, shape, form or fashion. Do I think we have something to learn? Yes I do.

“I’m trying to build a culture, and I know sometimes you look at that and you’re like, ‘It doesn’t look like it.’ … But I’m by no means discouraged.

“I get calls every day – ‘Are you okay? Are you losing your mind?’

“Not at all. In fact, I feel encouraged. Because I see kids trying and I hate to say it like that, but there are teams that played in Louisville last year and they’re like, ‘Kenny, we’ll see now something we haven’t seen before. We see them fighting. We see them hanging in there.’ ”

It was decided that a potential game-winning basket by Louisville senior guard Ellis had been against Appalachian State shortly after last buzzer.

Bellarmine missed the final 4:40 against the Cardinals, who ended the game on an 11-0 run.

“We need some luck,” Payne said. “We need a break and when you get that and get a win, that comes with confidence.”

Ellis is averaging 24.0 points and leading Louisville with 29 in each of the last two games.

“Ellis is a dynamic goalscorer,” Musselman said. “We need to shrink the ground, we need to spy on it.

“We’re going to need a really good transition defense. We certainly won’t have to give up the ball to some defensively active players.”

Including Louisville’s 51-50 loss to Virginia in last season’s ACC tournament, the Cardinals became the first team to lose four straight games by a point since Stetson in the 1981-82 season, according to a Louisville press release.

“It’s difficult to lose all these games in a row by a point when you know we’re so close,” Ellis said. “We just have to be ready to play at the beginning.

“I can now say that we are a second-half team. But we have to be able to compete for 40 minutes. That is our main problem.”

The Cardinals lineup includes 6-10 sophomores Brandon Hentley-Hatfield, a transfer from Tennessee; 6-9 junior Jae’Lyn Withers and 6-8 senior Sydney Curry.

“They’re a large size in the front,” Musselman said. “With the way they defend the rim, there aren’t a lot of color points available.”

The Arkansas-Louisville winner and loser will play the winner and loser of the matchup between No. 10 Creighton and No. 23 Texas Tech on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s Razorbacks game will be played against an opponent from the other side of the group, which includes No. 14 Arizona, No. 17 San Diego State, Cincinnati and Ohio State.

“Look, bottom line, we’ve got three really tough games ahead of us against long, athletic teams,” Musselman said.

Former Wake Forest and South Carolina coach Dave Odom is the tournament committee chair for the Maui Invitational.

“Dave Odom called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m just saying to Coach, someone coming back 3-0, that’s really good,'” Musselman said. “That is a true statement because someone is.

“So we have to try and focus and win our first game and then see what happens from there.”

Arkansas could again play without freshman guard Nick Smith – who missed the first three games with a knee injury – but Black said he feels good about the team’s ability to play at a high level for three straight days.

“We have a lot of depth on this team,” Black said. “We have a lot of guys that we trust to come in and give us good minutes.

“In a tournament like this, we all have to come in and do our part.”

Davis said the Razorbacks learned by playing in Texas.

“Losing Texas helped us to think that we can’t just come out and think someone is going to gift us a win because it’s not going to happen,” Davis said. “Just play our game. Play hard on defense and offense will take care of itself.”

Black said he expects the Razorbacks to take on the challenge that opposing teams will present in Maui.

“I think we’ll be able to play well in this environment because we have a lot of players,” said Black. “I think playing in an environment like this will probably uplift us.”

Louisville freshman guard Mike James said the Cardinals are excited about a fresh start in Maui.

“If you grew up watching college basketball, you know what the Maui Invitational is about,” James said. “I watched a lot of games of this tournament and saw a lot of great players. Playing there for me and my team is a dream come true.

“I think we’re ready. It’s a really good field and we have a chance to surprise some people and turn our season around.”