Louisville ready for stretch run

Just last week, Rick Pitino worried that his team might come unglued by a slew of injuries to several key players. Now with only six Big East games remaining, it appears that Louisville is finally putting together all the pieces to make a strong stretch run.

Just last week, Rick Pitino worried that his team might come unglued by a slew of injuries to several key players.

Now with only six Big East games remaining, it appears that Louisville is finally putting together all the pieces to make a strong stretch run.

Preston Knowles has been the one constant bright spot for Pitino this season, and he delivered seven three-pointers in Louisville's 73-69 win over Syracuse Saturday that improved the Cardinals Big East record to 8-4.

Junior center Terrence Jennings is emerging as one of the top big men in the Big East, finally living up to his vast potential and providing the Cardinals scoring and rebounding in the post. During Louisville's last five games, Jennings has averaged 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Kyle Kuric has finally learned to assert himself offensively and has emerged as a dangerous perimeter scoring threat for the Cardinals. The junior forward has averaged 23.3 points in UofL's last three games, and lit up Syracuse's zone for five three's.

Peyton Siva, growing into his point guard role, is making good decisions with the ball, and doing the things Pitino needs from him, like creating for teammates (six assists vs. Syracuse), applying defensive pressure (3 steals vs. Syracuse) and making crucial free throws.

Now, Louisville adds the one thing it missed during their first 11 Big East games: power forward Rakeem Buckles. Buckles returned to the lineup Saturday, and delivered seven rebounds in 14 minutes. Though Buckles failed to score and committed five turnovers, his teammates and coach expect him to shake off the rust in short order.

"He's good, but he's rusty," Pitino said. "He's in shape, but he's rusty right now. His shooting--he couldn't shoot. He got in shape, but he'll get it back in a short period of time."

Jennings, who has taken up the rebounding slack without Buckles in the lineup, is glad to have the 6-8 sophomore back on the court.

"It was good," Jennings said following UofL's win over the Orange. "He got in there and got some rebounds. It was almost like he didn't miss a beat. He's just got to get back into the groove of things. Once he does that we're going to be tough to beat."

The Cardinals were already tough to beat without Buckles in the lineup. Now, the Cardinals look do some damage in the final six games and secure a double-bye in next month's Big East Tournament.

"I'm really excited," Pitino said. "Now we're going to get Rak [Rakeem Buckles] back, Gorgui [Dieng] is going to get into shape and we'll have him available the next game. We'll be able to work on our motion offense.

"I am super excited to be four for four in the segments. Super excited. I'm real proud of our guys. I think this is the fan's favorite team in the 10 years I've been here. The reason is they don't get down. Everybody just keeps playing hard."

Louisville hits the road for a key game at Cincinnati Wednesday night at 7:00.


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