W. Kentucky-Louisville Preview
Louisville point guard Chris Jones could miss the next two games because of a sprained wrist on his shooting hand.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said Friday that Jones injured his right wrist about a week ago and hurt it again in practice Thursday. Jones' absence leaves the sixth-ranked Cardinals (8-1) without their second-leading scorer and blossoming floor leader Saturday when they host Western Kentucky (5-3).
Jones is averaging 14.9 points and 2.6 assists per game.
"That takes a big chunk out of our offensive arsenal," Pitino said. "We're just happy it's not fractured. ... It's like an ankle sprain."
Freshman Terry Rozier will start beside senior Russ Smith, with Final Four hero Tim Henderson coming off the bench. Smith is Louisville's leading scorer (17.6 points) and also has played at point guard.
Jones' injury is a blow for a Cardinals team trying to fill voids left by the departures of Peyton Siva and post player Gorgui Dieng from last year's national championship squad. It comes as Jones was settling in as Siva's successor, starting eight of nine games and providing solid ball handling.
The 5-foot-10 Memphis native has built an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6-1.6 per game along with bravely driving inside against bigger defenders. Then again, that was to be expected from the quick and muscular Jones, who idolizes former NBA all-star Allen Iverson.
Jones told The Associated Press this week that he was feeling better about his defense as well.
"I have to get better off the ball because I'm great on the ball," he said. "There's a lot of rotation that goes on with defense, but I'm getting it and hope to learn it like the back of my hand to make my coach happy."
Last year's junior college Division I Player of the Year had been mostly delighting Pitino with his scoring. Jones had 19 points in a 113-74 win over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday including a 3-pointer and had hit 15 of 36 from long range (42 percent) - production the coach said will be hard to replace.
"We lose a lot offensively with Chris out," Pitino said. "Chris is somebody who gets in the lane. He's a blow-by guy. Obviously with Tim Henderson, he's more of a spot-up guy, not a blow-by guy, so you lose an awful lot, especially if Russ or Terry get in foul trouble."
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Rozier has been playing his way into a bigger role in the backcourt.
The 6-1 newcomer came off the bench to score a career-best 11 points against ULL after starting Louisville's previous two games, opening both contests with 3-point baskets. He's averaging 5.1 points and 2.1 assists per contest with just two turnovers.
Henderson, meanwhile, provides another perimeter threat despite limited minutes this season. The senior earned a special place among Cardinals fans last spring for his back-to-back 3-pointers within 42 seconds against Wichita State to help rally Louisville from a 12-point second-half deficit and win the national semifinal en route to its third NCAA championship.
Western Kentucky is led by juniors T.J. Price and George Fant, who average 15.6 and 13.9 points, respectively.
However, it was senior Brandon Harris who scored a career-high 30 in the team's latest game, leading the Hilltoppers to a 69-60 win at Southern Illinois. Harris hit 8 of 14 from 3-point range after entering the game 4 for 23.
Harris had a team-high 14 points last season at Louisville, but he shot 5 for 18 and Western Kentucky finished at 38.8 percent in a 78-55 defeat. Smith scored a game-high 20.
The Hilltoppers lead the all-time series 39-37, but they've lost all four meetings by double digits since shocking a then-No. 3 Cardinals team 68-54 on Nov. 30, 2008 - their last win over a ranked team.