Pitino hopes Cards get healthy soon

Louisville is hanging on by a thread. Though the Cardinals have found a way to win close games with key players out with injury, Rick Pitino hopes his team gets healthy for the final eight regular-season Big East contests.

Louisville is hanging on by a thread.

The Cardinals last four games have all been decided by four points or less, the first time that's happened since 1996. Fortunately, Louisville has won three of those four contests.

Playing without starters Preston Knowles and Rakeem Buckles, and reserve center Gorgui Dieng, the Cardinals slipped by DePaul 61-57 Saturday night.

But while Rick Pitino is happy his team continues to find a way a win despite an inexplicable string of injuries, Louisville's coach is growing frustrated with the situation. With eight Big East games left, Pitino hopes his team can finish strong despite the injury issues.

"We're hanging on," Pitino said. "We're doing the best we can, but it's very, very difficult. We've been saying we want somebody else to step up, but it's extremely agitating what we're going through."

Ten players have missed at least one game because of injury this season. Those injuries have made it virtually impossible for Pitino to extract the best from his team.

"We've gotten out of shape, which is unheard of for one of our basketball teams," said Pitino. Because we can't practice, we can't do what we want. Every time somebody goes up for a layup, our hearts are in our mouth because we're afraid he could go down and we can't have practice again.

Preston Knowles should be back against Notre Dame.
"It's been the most agitating, annoying thing I've experienced in my coaching career. On the other side, like I told Kenny [Klein, Louisville's Sports Information Director], we could be 5-18. We're winning, but we're not improving, because we're not practicing. We're holding on."

The last four games have reminded long-time fans of the 'Cardiac Cards,' a nickname earned by teams years ago who always seemed to play close games - and win them.

Pitino hopes his team heals for the Big East stretch run. Louisville will head to Notre Dame Wednesday tied for second place in the conference with the Irish and Villanova.

Knowles, Louisville's leading scorer and team captain, should be back on the court for that contest. Buckles, the Cards' top rebounder and starting power forward, could be back for Saturday's game against Syracuse. There's been no word on when Dieng, who suffered a concussion against West Virginia, will return. Jared Swopshire remains out for the season after having surgery for a groin injury.

"We're playing without four fantastic basketball players," Pitino said. "Maybe there's a silver lining down the road. We've always been good in February, but we're not improving because we're not practicing. I'm hoping we get healthy pretty soon."

While his team's injury problems have been frustrating, Pitino is encouraged that the Cardinals continue to find a way to win. They'll need more than magic at South Bend Wednesday. The Irish, 19-4, have won five in a row, including a road win against Pitt last week.

"They're playing great," Pitino said. "We need to become a good basketball team once we get healthy. Right now it's really difficult, really difficult. It's very difficult to execute offensively, very difficult to execute defensively.

"That's the poorest game [DePaul] we played all year, and I don't think it's the player's fault. I think DePaul had something to do with it. I just think they're showing great courage. They've been through the mill, had a lot of comebacks. We got a win, though, and that's the important thing. No one will remember how you played, they'll remember the 'W'."

Louisville's injury problems have taken a noticable tole on defense. Though the Cardinals rank among the nation's leaders in field goal percentage defense, Georgetown shot 76.5 percent in the second half of their 62-59 win last week, while DePaul found surprising success from the three-point line, making eight three's - four more than their season average.

"Defensively, we have got to get better," Pitino said. "We were playing fantastic defense, terrific defense. Now we're letting teams shoot too high of a percentage.

"Injuries can do that to you. Injuries can really affect your team. Gorgui [Dieng] is one of the top two five men. Preston [Knowles] is the top two man, best player on the team. Rakeem [Buckles] is the best four man. We're losing the best players, and the guys filling in are trying their best. But it is not fun out there."

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