It’s a saying Cards fans are used to hearing: “Wayne Blackshear is overdue for a big game.” It feels like we’ve been saying that since Wayne first suited up for Louisville. However, when it comes to playing Kentucky, Blackshear is a player of increased importance. He’s the only player Louisville will field who was a McDonald’s All-American. But the former blue chip recruit has never scored double digits against the Wildcats.
Blackshear came to Louisville being touted as an incredible shooter. He was even ranked above Anthony Davis by several scouts in his home Chicago area. However, a shoulder injury immediately haunted his freshmen year. Ever since, we’ve been waiting for the Wayne Blackshear we were promised.
After being a decent contributor last year, Blackshear was expected to take a bigger role this season in an improved Louisville offense. If the Cardinals won last season thanks to defense, Wayne was going to be a part of a winning offense.
Wayne’s Junior season has had mixed results. Blackshear has had a few breakout games, including two 20+ points efforts. However, he only averages a mediocre 8.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
There is an interesting trend with Blackshear this season. The Cardinals have never lost when he plays more than 20 minutes. When Wayne doesn’t play it’s usually due to fouls. Wayne leads the team with 4.9 fouls committed every 40 minutes played, and has fouled out 3 times this season including against Kentucky.
The first time the Cards and Cats met this season, Blackshear’s fate was decided early. Not even three minutes into the game Blackshear had picked up two fouls. The second one came on a controversial call that could have gone either with him or against him. Blackshear couldn’t regain his composure and ended the game with just five points.
Friday’s matchup is the chance for Blackshear to redeem himself. If we could see a glimmer of Blackshear’s promise, he could be a difference maker. One of the keys for the Cardinals’ possible success is a strong night from behind the arc. Blackshear has shown his ability to shoot well from time to time, and a couple well placed shot would be a big help for the team.
Blackshear along with Luke Hancock would likely be guarding Kentucky’s James Young. While neither has the explosiveness Young has, Blackshear could offer more physicality. If Louisville goes with a small ball lineup, Blackshear could struggle at the power forward position against either Julius Randle or Alex Poythress.
The key for Blackshear is avoiding committing fouls. It’s the issue that has plagued his entire time at Louisville. If (and that’s a big if) he can stay foul free and provide some quality minutes, the Cardinals would be one step closer to beating their arch rival. He could be a turning point in the pivotal showdown.
Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if Louisville’s lone five-star recruit turns out to be the key for Louisville? What if Rick Pitino gave Cal a spoonful of his own medicine? Wayne Blackshear has yet to be the player we all were hoping for, but if Friday night is the game of his life it would make for an incredible story.