The Cardinals are coming off a 62-60 win over nationally-ranked Vanderbilt, overcoming a nine-point second half deficit to improve their record to 7-0 with IUPUI visiting the KFC Yum Center Wednesday night.
Now, with the semester break – and unlimited practice time – rapidly approaching, Rick Pitino's team is finally getting healthy. Junior forward Rakeem Buckles will return to the lineup against IUPUI, and Kevin Ware, a late signee, will join the team next week. Pitino also expects Stephen Van Treese and Wayne Blackshear to return to the lineup at some point.
"With the addition now of Rak and Kevin Ware next week it's a good time for us to get additional work and improve in so many areas we need to improve on," Pitino said. "We're looking forward to that time."
Though Pitino anticipates Buckles gradually working his way back into the lineup, the 6'8 forward will be a significant boost for Louisville.
"We'll probably play him 10-14 minutes," Pitino said. "We'll try to increase it a little bit the following game, then he should be ready to go for the Memphis game. The main thing is I don't want to play him more than three minute spans."
Buckles hasn't played since tearing his ACL last February against Pittsburgh. While Buckles is a natural power forward, Pitino expects him to provide depth behind starting center Gorgui Dieng until Van Treese returns from a knee injury."He actually is 100 percent," said Pitino. He'll be nervous, he'll be tight and will probably travel a few times. He really wanted to play in the Vanderbilt game. He felt he was ready to play and he was very disappointed. He's very anxious to get going. He'll probably back up Gorgui in the beginning, but he can play both spots and he may have to."
Before his injury, Buckles averaged 6.8 points in 16 games last season and was the Cardinal top rebounder, ranking ninth overall in the Big East. Pitino said Buckles, who made 11 of 26 three-pointers last year, has improved his outside shooting while sitting out.
"Rak is a very good sound basketball player that is used to pressure and he's not going into any place and be nervous," Pitino said. "He's a good rebounder. He's a good scorer. The one thing these injuries have done for Rak is it's made him a good shooter from the outside because when you're injured the only thing you can do is shoot. He's really worked hard on his shooting."
Though Louisville ranks seventh nationally in field goal percentage defense, limiting teams to 34 percent shooting, the Cardinals remain a work in progress on offense.
"The defense is without question way ahead of the offense," said Pitino. "That's primarily due to injuries and the pace we've been going at. We're going to try to start picking it up now. We lost a lot offensively with Preston Knowles. But if you play good defense you have a chance to win every game and we have. We've beaten some really good teams. We have not played at a good pace yet and one reason is Peyton Siva is not in good enough shape yet."
Siva, who missed two games and several practices with an ankle injury, is coming off his best game of the season with 14 points, 7 rebounds and five assists against Vanderbilt. Pitino expects his junior point guard to make further strides Wednesday vs. IUPUI, which features Alex Young, a 6'5 wing who averages 18.7 points per game.
"Tomorrows game will feature, just like (John) Jenkins, a big time scoring threat," Pitino said. "We did not do as good a job on Jenkins as we wanted but he's very tough. We're going to have to do a great job because this team now, although they're 2-7, is a very good offensive basketball team. They only turn the ball over 11 times per game. So that's the lowest we've seen this year."
IUPUI is coached by Todd Howard, a former Louisville player under Denny Crum and a graduate of Ballard High. Howard's father, Terry, played on Louisville's 1975 team, and assistant David Padgett was a star for the Cardinals under Pitino.
"The Howard family is a Louisville-based family," Pitino said. "(Todd's) dad played here and David Padgett was a great player for us. They're going to know us very well. That's why we're changing most of our offenses and defenses."