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CajunBlog by Dan McDonald: Hart shows heart in big hoop effort

UL basketball coach Robert Lee has been hoping since the start of the season that some other veterans on his young basketball team would step up. Monday night, Valentino Hart responded to that challenge and made a believer out of a lot of Cajun fans.

Hart, who spent all of last season as a role player for the Cajuns and never had more than six points or eight rebounds, exploded against Tennessee’s Volunteers with a 17-rebound, 10-point effort. Even in a 77-67 loss to the Vols, the Cajuns’ fourth straight setback, his performance gave Lee continued hope for his team’s continued improvement.

“The other night (against Cal State Fullerton), he brought energy and effort and that’s what we need from him. Tonight, he was unbelievable with the effort he brought. There’s no way you could ask for any more from him. That’s the type of fight we need from everybody.”

Hart, a native of The Bahamas, had eight points and 11 rebounds by halftime, and it was his board work that helped the Cajuns stay within striking distance at 38-30 at intermission. Later, he had three straight defensive board and an offensive rebound putback in a four-minute span, and during that time UL whittled what at one time was a 17-point deficit down to single digits.

That deficit was eventually reduced to two, but Tennessee’s Chris Lofton finished off a night of heroics with all of Tennessee’s field goals in the final 10 minutes. He finished with 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including seven three-pointers.

“We needed our other guys to play better tonight, and they did,” Lee said. “Guys like Rhett Hebert, Adam James and Valentino Hart, we needed them because the freshmen were a little shell-shocked. This is a different level from high school.”

Hebert finished with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting and also had seven assists, and James had five rebounds as part of a 33-31 Cajun rebounding effort. And Hart …

“That’s what I’ve been supposed to do all season,” Hart said. “I started out slow. Coach Lee told me that if I rebound, good things will happen. That’s what I do, rebound and hustle plays.”