Louisville looks to slow Hansbrough, Irish

No. 15 Louisville (18-5, 7-3) will try to slow Ben Hansbrough and No. 8 Notre Dame Wednesday night in a key Big East matchup in South Bend. The Cardinals will get one key player back from injury as they try to hand the Irish their first loss at home this season.

Louisville faces a difficult task Wednesday night at No. 7 Notre Dame.

The Irish are red-hot, winners of five straight, including a victory at Pittsburgh last week.

Making matters even more difficult for the Cardinals is the venue for tomorrow's game – the Joyce Center. Notre Dame hasn't lost all season at home, owners of an unblemished 14-0 record.

Mike Brey's squad, led by Big East Player of the Year candidate Ben Hansbrough, is highly dangerous on offense. Five Irish players have made at least 19 three's this season, and Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis rank among the Top 17 scorers in the league. Four of Notre Dame's five starters stand 6-foot-8, posing another problem for the vertically challenged Cardinals.

"We have got to get them to shoot a lower percentage than they have shot, that's the most important thing," Pitino said. "They've got a little more depth, experience and size. It's going to be a tall order with this game. They're playing great basketball and they haven't lost a game at home. We're going to have to play a great game to get a ‘W'."

No. 15 Louisville (18-5, 7-3) vs.
Notre Dame (19-4, 8-3)

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 9; 7:00
Where: Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind. (9,149))
TV: ESPNU will televise the game, with Rece Davis (play-by-play) and Digger Phelps (color) calling the action.
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) will broadcast the game on radio, with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (color) calling the action.
Next UofL Game: Saturday, Feb. 12 vs. Syracuse at KFC Yum! Center, Noon ET (ESPN)

Storyline: Preston Knowles returns as No. 15 Louisville heads north for a key Big East game against Notre Dame. The Cardinals, a half game behind the Irish in the Big East race, look to hand Mike Brey's squad their first home loss this season.

Cardinal Keys: Defend and rebound. Louisville must account for Ben Hansbrough on each possession, and guard the three-point line better than they did against DePaul. It will be critical for Louisville to find success on the boards, particularly at the defensive end to stop the Irish from getting second chance points. On offense, Louisville needs a big game from Knowles, and balanced scoring from the rest of the starters to keep pace with the explosive Irish.

Notre Dame, 19-4 overall, beat Rutgers 76-69 Sunday at home. The Irish are 8-3 in league play, a half game ahead of Louisville (7-3) in the Big East standings.

"They're tough to prepare for," said Pitino. "They do a lot of great things against zone and a lot of great things against man [defense]. They [shoot] a higher percentage against man than they do zone, but they're equally as good against zone as they are man [defense]."

If Louisville plans to provide Notre Dame their first loss in South Bend this year, they'll have to keep Hansbrough, the fourth leading scorer in the Big East, in check. The 6'3 Hansbrough averages 17.4 points per game.

"He's a legitimate player of the year candidate," Pitino said. "He's had great games. He's the leader on that basketball team. Jimmer Fredette is going to win player of the year, but I would put Ben Hansbrough two or three.

"He does it all. If you switch he's great off the bounce. If you trap he's smart enough to find the open man. He's very difficult to try to stop. He's a very good passer, and a good penetrator. And he's an outstanding shooter with great range. He makes free throws late in the game. He has the total package."

Preston Knowles will return to Louisville's lineup after missing Saturday 61-57 home win over DePaul with a groin injury. While Knowles will be back on the court, the Cardinals will still be without the services of Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng.

Buckles will have his injured finger re-examined on Thursday and Pitino hopes the sophomore forward will return to the lineup in the near future. Dieng will miss his fourth game after suffering a concussion against West Virginia.

"It could be as early as Thursday or as late as another week," Pitino said of Buckles return to action. "I'm hoping within the next week or so."

While Pitino worries about Dieng's conditioning after the injury, he thinks Buckles will be ready to go full speed once he's cleared by doctors to play.

"We've been working very hard with Rock," Pitino said. "I think Rock is going to be okay, we've been pushing him very hard on the basketball court with basketball drills. He's going to have to get over the injury mentally, but physically he's going to be ready."

With Buckles out, junior Kyle Kuric has been forced to slide over from small forward to play some minutes at the four spot. Kuric led Louisville with 19 points against DePaul, and the Cardinals are 11-0 when he scores double figures the past two seasons.

"The thing we're trying to do with Kyle is get him to drive to the rim more and get two, four, six points a game off layups," Pitino said. "He's doing a better job with that in practice. You don't see it as much in games, but he's doing it in practice. When we get everybody back, Kyle will be able to get to the rim more."

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