Tough three game road stretch begins in Charlotte

#9 Louisville (17-3, 7-2) begin a three game road swing tonight at Charlotte (14-5, 6-2). Tipoff is scheduled for 9:00 p.m and will be televised live on ESPN2.

GAME FACTS
Date Thursday, February 12, 2004
Time/Location 9:00 p.m./ Halton Arena (9,105)
Television ESPN2
Radio WHAS (840 AM)
Series History Louisville leads 15-14
U of L Ranking 9th AP/ 9th ESPN/USA Today
Officials Steve Welmer, Curtis Shaw, Tim Higgins

As the Louisville Cardinals embark on a three game road swing through Conference USA, senior guard Alhaji Mohammed says the way his team responds to the challenge of this tough stretch, which includes games against TCU and Cincinnati, will show everyone what this team is made of.

"This stretch will certainly show us how tough we are," Mohammed said.

Tonight though, the focus turns to an excellent shooting Charlotte team that also boasts, perhaps, the leagues best power forward in 6'8 Curtis Withers.

"Charlotte may be the most talented starting five in our conference," University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said. "They have probably the best shooting backcourt in the nation with the most range. They're a killer on the backboard and they're great in transition. So we've got our work cut out for us."

Withers leads the Niners in both scoring (16.7), and rebounding (9.8). But trouble could be looming for Bobby Lutz and Charlotte if UNCC Athletic Director Julie Rose forces leading three point shooter Demon Brown to sit out tonight's game following an incident allegedly involving the use of a handgun by Brown last week.

As of early this afternoon, no determination had been made on Brown status for tonight's contest, but he did not start last Saturday against East Carolina, though he did see game action.

As for Pitino and the Cardinals, they have their own problems to deal with, namely some untimely injuries to forwards Francisco Garcia and Otis George and point guard Taquan Dean.

"We're pretty banged up," Pitino said.

Pitino said that the most damaging aspect of the injuries has been missed practice time which has hurt his team's cohesiveness at the offensive end. He did say that both Garcia (ankle) and George (hip) should make full recoveries from their injuries but doubted that Dean (groin) would return to 100 percent health the rest of the season.

"I don't think you'll see Taquan 100 percent this year again," Pitino explained. "I don't think it's going to happen. [He'll] get through the season, but he's got one of those injuries that just takes months to really heal. We've tried everything and nothing seems to be working."

There has been a silver lining to the recent string of injuries. For starters, shooting guard Larry O'Bannon has been excellent during the past four games, averaging 16.8 points and had a career-high 26 at Memphis last week. Forward Luke Whitehead has also stepped up his play, and has averaged 15.3 rebounds the last three games. And reserve point guard Brandon Jenkins, who struggled against Memphis' Antonio Burks, played 30 minutes without a turnover against UAB last weekend.

As for tonight, the Cardinals will have to defend the three point line against the Niners, who make 35 percent from beyond the arch in their 14 wins this season but just 29 percent in its five losses. They'll also have to keep Withers, and 7'0 freshman center Martin Iti off the backboards.

"We've got to stop the three ball," Mohammed said. "We have to stay on their right hand and not let them get their attempt."

Mohammed and the Cards hope to get their road swing started on the right foot tonight and the senior from Chicago thinks his team is starting to come back around

"Practice has gone really well since Francisco and Taquan returned and we're starting to get back to where we were," Mohammed said.

The game will tip at 9 PM and Dick Vitale and Dan Shulman will have the call on ESPN2.

Probable Starting Lineups

Louisville (17-3, 7-2) Ht Wt Yr PPG RPG Hometown
F Luke Whitehead 6-6 220 Sr 13.4 9.3 San Francisco
F Francisco Garcia 6-7 185 So 15.3 5.0 Bronx, NY
C Kendall Dartez 6-10 225 Sr 5.4 4.7 Houston, TX
G Taquan Dean 6-3 185 So 12.2 3.8 Neptune, NJ
G Larry O'Bannon 6-4 195 Jr 11.2 3.1 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

Charlotte (14-5, 6-2) Ht Wt Yr PPG RPG Hometown
F Eddie Basden 6-5 205 Jr 10.7 6.2 Washington, D.C.
F Curtis Withers 6-8 230 So 16.7 9.8 Charlotte
C Martin Iti 7-0 240 Fr 6.9 4.8 Sydney, Australia
G Brendan Plavich 6-2 20 Jr 11.9 1.6 Dalton, GA
G Demon Brown* 6-1 195 Sr 12.6 2.8 Baltimore, MD

*Status unknown for tonight's game.  May not play because of legal issues.


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