'Unbreakables' face Houston

#4 Louisville (15-1, 5-0) takes on Houston (7-9, 1-4) tonight in Freedom Hall.

Date Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Time/Location 7:30 p.m./ Freedom Hall (18,865)
Television WDRB
Radio WHAS (840 AM)
Series History Louisville leads 12-4
U of L Ranking 4th AP/ 4th ESPN/USA Today
Satellite Coord. SBS 6, Transponder 6 (KU Band)
Officials Larry Ware, Curtis Shaw, Steven Pyatt

All of Rick Pitino's great teams at the University of Kentucky had catchy and well deserved nicknames.

There were the 'Unforgetables' in 1992 that were a Christian Laettner jump shot away from the Final Four. And who could forget the 'Unbeatables' four years later that cut down the nets in New Jersey?

Now, Pitino has another great team on his hands and we'd like to tab this current team - a team that has faced unending adversity all season long yet has refused to wilt in the face of it - the 'Unbreakables.'

These guys simply won't break. No matter the nature or seriousness of the adversity facing it, the 'Unbreakables' seemingly grow stronger with each tradegy or obstacle.

Winners of fifteen straight, the last an amazing comeback victory in Knoxville Sunday night without point guard Taquan Dean, and ranked fourth in both major polls this week, Pitino's Cardinals have literally faced one crises after another this season.

From the loss of Ellis Myles prior to the season, to the murder of sophomore Francisco Garcia's brother, Hector, in December, this current group has proven resilient in the face of adversity. And for most teams, those two obstacles would have proven costly. Throw in the death of Myles' father, an unfortunate incident involving assistant coach Kevin Willard, and a groin injury to Dean and most team's would have already broken under the weight of such distractions. And that's only the abbreviated list.

But not this team. Not the 'Unbreakables!'

Adversity? They fight through it and continue pursuing their goals. Tragedy? They overcome it and grow stronger.

Monday, the hits continued coming for the 'Unbreakables.'

Not only are Dean and Garcia, who injured his left ankle in the waning moments of Sunday's victory, probably out tonight against Houston, but their Coach and inspirational leader told the world he was taking a leave of absence and going to Cleveland to get treatment for undisclosed urological pains.

Hopefully Tuesday's news from Pitino that his illness was not cancer-related or life threatening will energize this wounded and bruised team. If that doesn't work, maybe Pitino's probable return this Saturday will instill just enough fear in his troops to find a way to pull out their 16th consecutive victory against the Cougars.

"I think this is a strong team mentally, obviously the chemistry of this team is phenomenal," U of L AD Tom Jurich said. "I just think that will continue to carry over, and I think they have the spirit of Rick, there's no doubt about it."

"They all play that way, they are a great group of over-acheivers, and that's certainly his personality," Jurich continued. "I would expect them to continue through. They are going through a lot more adversity, not only are they going to lose their coach, they are losing their two top players. I imagine they'll all come together and put together another great performance."

In Pitino's stead will be longtime and capable assistant Willard. Just 28-years old, Willard has been with Pitino since his Boston days and has Pitino's complete faith to get the job done. Known as a briliant X and O strategist who can break down an opponents strengths and weaknesses like few others, Willard is ready to lead the 'Unbreakables,' tonight.

"Kevin Willard has been with me for six years," Pitino said Monday. "He knows every move I make so the team is in good hands. My confidence level in him is off the charts.. as well as the other members of the staff who will be helping him."

"We're prepared and ready to go against Houston," Pitino continued. "Without Francisco, without Taquan, and without me, I know that our guys will rise to the occasion."

And what else would you expect from a team called the 'Unbreakables.'

Probable Starting Lineups

Louisville (15-1, 5-0) Ht Wt Yr PPG RPG Hometown
F Luke Whitehead 6-6 220 Sr 14.3 8.5 San Francisco
F Francisco Garcia* 6-7 185 So 15.5 4.9 Bronx, NY
C Kendall Dartez 6-10 225 Sr 4.9 4.5 Houston, TX
G Taquan Dean* 6-3 185 So 12.8 4.0 Neptune, NJ
G Larry O'Bannon 6-4 195 Jr 9.9 2.8 Louisville

Reserves: 6'9 Nouha Diakite 2.1, 2.7, 6'9 Otis George  5.2, 4.6, 6'3 Alhaji Mohammad 4.6, 1.5, 6'7 Nate Daniels 6.7, 2.0, 6'3 Brandon Jenkins 2.1, 1.7

Houston (7-9,  1-4) Ht Wt Yr PPG RPG Hometown
F Ramon Dryer 6-7 195 Jr 3.1 5.1 Wilson, LA
C Anwar Ferguson 7-0 210 Sr 7.4 7.3 Exuma, Bahamas
G Marcus Oliver 6-3 195 Sr 10.3 2.7 Charlotte, NC
G Andre Owens 6'4 205 Jr 17.2 5.1 Indianapolis, IN
G Lanny Smith 6-3 185 Fr 6.7 1.9 Missouri City, TX

*Not probable for tonight's game


  • Willard said Tuesday night that both Garcia and Dean would miss tonight's game, despite Garcia's insistence that he would play.
  • Alhaji Mohammed is expected to start in place of Garcia, while freshman Brandon Jenkins will replace Dean at point guard.
  • Jenkins has been outstanding with his decision making and ball handling the past two games. Against Cincinnati and Tennessee, Jenkins made 7 assists and committed just 1 turnover.
  • Louisville ranks first in the nation in this week's RPI poll and ranks high in several statistical categories, including 2nd in scoring margin (21.1), 6th in blocked shots, and 2nd in field goal percentage defense (36.6 percent).
  • Luke Whitehead needs only 15 points to reach 1,000 for his career.
  • Garcia was honored as the Conference USA Player of the Week after averaging 21.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2 steals last week against Cincinnati and Tennessee.

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