Illinois St.-Louisville Preview
Despite losing its shot-blocking center and the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game within days, Louisville doesn't appear to be hanging its head.
The fifth-ranked Cardinals will try to move forward Saturday when they return to their home court for the first time in nearly two weeks to take on Illinois State.
Two days after falling to then-No. 5 Duke 76-71 for the tournament title last Saturday in the Bahamas, Louisville (5-1) received more bad news when it learned Gorgui Dieng would miss four to six weeks with a broken left wrist.
The 6-foot-11 junior, who suffered the injury in the tournament semifinal game against Missouri on Nov. 23, is averaging 8.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He set a single-season school record with 128 blocks to lead the Big East last season.
With Dieng expected to be out until at least the start of the Big East schedule in January, sophomore Zach Price, senior Stephan Van Treese and freshman Montrezl Harrell will try to fill the void in the middle.
Price got the start against the Blue Devils, finishing with four points - three more than he had in the first four games combined - and three rebounds.
"We will miss (Dieng's) defensive presence and passing ability, but it's time for other guys to step up their performances,'' Rick Pitino said.
Siva led the way with a season-best 19 points and Smith, who averages a team-high 19.2, scored 17 in the Atlantis final.
The Cardinals, however, will try to improve at the free-throw line after hitting 22 of 34 (64.7) in their last two games, including four straight misses down the stretch against the Blue Devils.
"We had a very good opportunity but we missed our free throws,'' Pitino said. "But our effort was extraordinary and I'm proud of them.''
Poor free-throwing shooting also cost Illinois State (5-1) last Saturday at the South Padre Island Invitational. The Redbirds made just 10 for 20 from the line in a 72-69 overtime loss to Northwestern in the championship game.
Illinois State's Tyler Brown, though, nearly made up for it with a career-high 36 points on 7-of-13 shooting from 3-point range. It was the most points scored by a Redbird since Tarise Bryson tallied 41 against Central Michigan on Dec. 3, 2000.
Brown, the team's top scorer at 18.8 points per game, will try to follow up with another big performance against the team he grew up cheering for.
"It's our next game," said Brown, who grew up not far from Louisville. "So it's our biggest game and that's how I'm going to approach it. I'm going to play it like any other game - besides my parents being there."
Brown's backcourt mate, Bryant Allen, also had a 30-point effort against UAB in South Padre on Nov. 23, but scored just three on 1-of-10 shooting versus Northwestern a day later.
The Redbirds are one of the nation's top offensive teams, averaging 85.0 points and 50.5 percent shooting, but Louisville is tough on the defensive end, allowing an average of 54.5 points.
The Cardinals won the only other meeting 117-107 on March 4, 1974 at Freedom Hall.
"They're good," Illinois State coach Dan Muller. "And it's always hard to wait a week after a loss."