That Rick Pitino Cardinals forced overtime and had several chances to win down the stretch last season against the Hawkeyes seems remarkable when you consider that U of L's main frontcourt weapons, 6'10 Kendall Dartez and 6'8 Otis George, failed to produce any points or rebounds in 27-minutes of action, combined.
Now, boasting an improved frontcourt, No. 14 Louisville looks to "rebound" against Steve Alford's Hawkeyes in this afternoon's first round game at the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Iowa, which outrebounded U of L in last season's game, 45-32, enters the game 1-0 and appears a likely contender to receive one of the Big Ten Conference's NCAA Tournament bids this season.
Led by 6'8 senior Ellis Myles, who missed last season while rehabbing an injured knee, the Cardinals figure to be much stronger in the paint this time around against the Hawkeyes. In Saturday's season opening 89-79 win against BYU-Hawaii, Myles, 6'8 reserve Otis George and freshman forward Tello Palacios combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds. They'll need similar production this afternoon if the Cardinals hope to advance to Tuesday's semifinal against the winner of the Texas-Chaminade game.
"I think will at least get one rebound this year," Pitino said last week before heading to Hawaii.
The Hawkeyes are led by 6'7 forward Greg Brunner, who had a career day with 26 points last season against the Cardinals frontcourt, and guards Jeff Horner (10 ppg.), Pierre Pierce (16 ppg.) and Iowa State transfer Adam Haluska (14 ppg.).
Inside, the Haweyes lost starting center Jared Reiner, who had 9 points and 6 boards against U of L in 2003, and are counting on 6'11 junior Eric Hansen and 6'9 junior college transfer Doug Thomas to help pick up the slack on the boards this season.
But unlike last season, the difference this time around could be provided by U of L's trio of talented perimeter performers, led by 6'7 junior All-America candidate Francisco Garcia.
Garcia, who managed just 10 points Saturday before fouling out, could be poised for a big performance matched up against the smaller Hawkeye wings, including the 6'4 Pierce.
U of L's starting backcourt of Taquan Dean and Larry O'Bannon figure to receive a stern test from Iowa's Horner and Haluska. Dean and O'Bannon combined for 36 points against BYU-Hawaii on Saturday and were critical in leading the Cardinals back from a seven-point deficit against the Seasiders.
Louisville-Iowa will follow the Texas-Chaminade game and is scheudled for a 5:05 EST tip. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
Haluska battling injuries
Iowa guard Adam Halusaka, who is supposed to start tonight against U of L, has battled injuries this preseason. A hip flexor and abdominal strain have hampered the Iowa State transfer early this season.
"I have a little ways to go," the Carroll, IA.-native said. "I'm still pretty sore. I'm moving a lot better than I did on Sunday, and I'm starting to jump more than I did before, so I'm starting to get back into the flow."
Haluska, who scored 14 points in the Hawkeye's season-opening win against Western Illinois last Friday, says he's still tentative on the court because of the injuries.
"I think it's a little in my head, but it's still pretty sore and tender. And I'm kind of protecting it a little bit, but every day I step out onto the floor it's getting better."