NCAA BK

No. 3 Louisville begins defense of national title

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Louisville will raise its third NCAA championship banner to the rafters before Saturday's season opener against the College of Charleston.

Right after, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino will push his third-ranked team raise their performance against the Cougars.

Lopsided exhibition victories over Kentucky Wesleyan and Pikeville revealed promise about Louisville's offense and its newcomers, but Pitino believes his players need to step it up on both ends of the court against a higher-level school.

Louisville certainly faces a tougher-than-usual opening foe in College of Charleston, which returns four starters from a 24-11 team. The Cougars played the Cardinals close in their first two meetings before being routed 80-38 last year.

Pitino wants to see the same kind of defense that forced Charleston into 27 turnovers in that win. He didn't see that effort during the preseason.

''I worry about every game, but I'm very concerned about the ability of this other team to execute because they're a veteran ball club,'' Pitino said Friday. ''We have talent, but we make a lot of mistakes that you don't see.

''We haven't played any competition yet. We've played two teams that were not the level of play we're going to see (Saturday). Last year was a freak game by us defensively.''

Louisville has several key players back, including guard Russ Smith and forwards Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear. The Cardinals have also added guards Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Anton Gill to the roster.

Junior guard Kevin Ware is also looking to get more into basketball shape after returning one game earlier than expected from a compound right leg fracture sustained in last spring's Midwest regional final. He was expected to see his first action on Saturday, but instead entered to a standing ovation in the second half of Wednesday night's 90-61 win over Pikeville and recorded 6 points and 4 rebounds in 10 minutes.

Pitino is being careful in working Ware into the rotation, but hinted that he will be needed in the backcourt with senior guard and co-captain Luke Hancock recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.

''I'm not frustrated, but I am pretty anxious to get out there,'' said Hancock, whom Pitino expects to miss at least three games. ''You guys know Coach P, he'll probably change (his mind) tomorrow. I could see him being, like, `suit up tomorrow' for the game.''

Louisville is also without suspended Chane Behanan for at least the season's first month, though the coach said he's progressing in meeting conditions for his return.

In the second game of the day-night doubleheader, the fifth-ranked Louisville women's team will host Loyola Chicago and rookie coach Sheryl Swoopes.

Tagged: Louisville, Charleston

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