At full strength, the Huskies and Hoyas would pose difficult challenges for Rick Pitino's team. Without power forwards Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles, and starting center Gorgui Dieng, who will miss both games after sustaining a concussion during Wednesday's 55-54 win against West Virginia, it seems a daunting task.
"We may have to have some interesting lineups in this game. I'm worried about this game because Gorgui is a big factor for us defensively. We're not going to have that now and we won't for two games."Dieng's absence is a major blow for Louisville against a team that ranks second in the nation in blocked shots and out-rebounds foes by nearly six boards per game. Pitino said Dieng will not travel with the team on the road.
"This is a big blow to us because he bothers people's vision in the lane and he deters a lot of shots," Pitino said. "It's a big blow to us defensively because we're not the same team without him."
Fortunately, Louisville junior center Terrence Jennings will be ready to play after suffering a "very mild" MCL strain in the final minutes of the win over WVU.
"We're playing one of the hottest teams in the country," Pitino said. "They've been battle tested and their one of the late favorites to win the Big East. So we know we have our hands full."
Though UConn is led by Player of the Year candidate Kemba Walker, Pitino said the Huskies aren't a one man team. Sophomore center Alex Oriakhi nearly averages a double-double and freshmen starters Roscoe Smith, Tyler Lamb and Tyler Olander have made positive impacts this season.
"Jeremy Lamb is terrific, one of the better freshmen in our league," Pitino said. "[Shabazz] Napier is terrific, their inside people are good. You couldn't have the success they've had with just Kemba Walker. It's their whole team. They're fast in transition and tough to defend."
"And with Gorgui out we have some big time concerns…we've got a lot of problems."
With Dieng on the bench, Pitino will have to find a creative solution to slow down Walker, who averages nearly 25 points per game.
"I don't think you can guard him with one person," Pitino said. "I think you have to have multiple trap situations. I don't think you can leave him one on one because he can take anybody one on one. Anybody would get in foul trouble against him in that situation."
Pitino also has to find a way to keep his team from falling behind by double digits against Big East opponents. Though Louisville came back to beat both Marquette and West Virginia, the Cardinals fell behind by 18 against the Golden Eagles, and trailed West Virginia by 11 in the second half before Peyton Siva saved UofL with a driving layup in the final seconds.
"Every win we get we're extremely thankful because it takes so much hard work," Pitino said. "The way we're doing it is not the way you want to see it. I'd like to have some normal games, but it's been anything but a normal year."
Pitino blamed his team's rebounding for their tendency to fall behind in games.
"We're getting behind because we're giving up a lot of offensive rebounds," Pitino said. "We're playing good defense and giving up offensive rebounds. So we've got to put an end to that against one of the better rebounding teams in the conference."