Staggering Louisville preps for Western Carolina
Moments before Rick Pitino addressed reporters on Friday, guard Preston Knowles walked in and placed a large gold Christmas tree ornament on a table.
The gift itself wasn't the shiny orb but the fact Knowles held it in his injured right hand, the surest sign that he's ready to return after missing last week's drubbing against Charlotte with a tender thumb.
The Cardinals (5-2) could certainly use him after enduring the worst home loss in nine seasons under Pitino. The 49ers dominated from the opening tip, so much so that Pitino ended up pulling out his starters with over six minutes remaining in the 87-65 loss.
Pitino expects Knowles and freshman guard Peyton Siva - who sat out the game with a sprained wrist - to be back on Saturday when Louisville hosts Western Carolina (9-1).
``They're probably not 100 percent, but we need them to be back because practices haven't gone well,'' Pitino said.
Neither have the games.
Knowles and Siva were both injured in a loss to UNLV two weeks ago and without them the Cardinals were hardly dominant in a win over Stetson and looked absolutely lost at times against the 49ers.
``They're probably not in basketball shape, but their legs are fine,'' Pitino said. ``If we don't have them, we can't beat Western Carolina. They're every bit as good as Charlotte.''
While Knowles and Siva will play, senior guard Jerry Smith will not. He'll sit out his second straight game with a sprained Achilles' and it could be another week before he's ready.
Sophomore forward George Goode will also sit out Saturday's game after injuring his left knee during Thursday's practice. Louisville sports information director Kenny Klein said an MRI showed Goode suffered a bone bruise in his left knee joint, and could be sidelined for as little as a few days or as long as several weeks.
It's the latest bit of bad luck for the affable Goode. He suffered two concussions in practice before the season started then missed a couple games after turning his ankle while stepping on a basketball.
Goode recovered enough to earn a rare start against the 49ers, though he managed just two points and a rebound in 13 ineffective minutes.
Goode's absence makes it even more critical for the Cardinals to receive some kind of boost from reserve center Terrence Jennings.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore is Louisville's most athletic big man, but has struggled to stay out of Pitino's doghouse. Pitino has criticized Jennings for a lackluster offseason, and Jennings has done little over the season's opening weeks to get back in his coach's good graces.
Jennings is averaging 3.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in about 12 minutes a game, not the kind of contribution Pitino was expecting.
``Terrence doesn't understand who he is,'' Pitino said. ``He looks in the mirror and sees something different. He looks in the mirror and doesn't see Ben Wallace, Dennis Rodman or that type. He sees Tracy McGrady. He doesn't see who he is and the mirror is playing tricks on him.''
The Cardinals will need Jennings to start snapping out of it against the Catamounts, who have won eight straight games and boast five legitimate 3-point threats. Not the best news for Louisville, which allowed Charlotte to drain 10 3-pointers last week.