Cards open conference play tonight in Houston

No. 17 Louisville (11-2) opens conference play on the road tonight at Hofheinz Pavilion against the Houston Cougars (8-5).

Louisville would like a little more time to get healthy.

But the 17th-ranked Cardinals will have to go with what they have Wednesday when they visit Houston in the Conference USA opener for both teams.

Louisville (11-2), which has won five straight games since a heartbreaking 60-58 loss to eighth-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 18, will be without forward Otis George against the Cougars (8-5). The Cardinals will have also have two other players performing at less than 100 percent health.

The 6-foot-8 George has a stress fracture in his right foot and has not played since recording six points and six rebounds in the loss to Kentucky.

Junior guard Taquan Dean, who underwent a hernia operation last June, sat out Sunday's 98-64 win over Tennessee State with back spasms. Dean, who is averaging 15.7 points and leads the team with 37 3-pointers, should be back against Houston.

``Taquan practiced for the first time today for about 45 minutes and we kept him out of the rest of practice and he should be a go tomorrow,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Tuesday.

Without Dean in the lineup, leading scorer Francisco Garcia helped Louisville pull away from Tennessee State. Garcia matched his career high with 29 points, including eight straight during a 27-4 run, as the Cardinals won for the 11th time in 12 games since a season-opening loss to No. 14 Iowa in the Maui Invitational.

The 6-7 junior is averaging a team-high 17.2 points and has played power forward due to the injuries to George and freshman Juan Palacios.

The 6-8, 245-pound Palacios suffered a contusion and corneal abrasion to his left eye in the Kentucky loss, and managed just two rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench in Thursday's 78-63 win over Eastern Kentucky. But Palacios, who started the first 10 games of the season, had 14 rebounds Sunday as Louisville outrebounded Tennessee State 45-31.

``I think Tello would rather start and I think he eventually will start,'' Pitino said of Palacios.

``But I think he's coming off an eye injury and I let it be known to Tello that we can't have power forwards rebounding two times a game. We expect certain things from a power forward and he went out there and got 14 rebounds.''

Houston returns to Hofheinz Pavilion after consecutive road defeats to Washington and Texas A & M. Lanny Smith scored 26 points, while Ramon Dyer and Dwight Jones II each added 14 for the Cougars in last Wednesday's 93-80 loss to Texas A&M.

Senior guard Andre Owens is averaging a team-high 17.7 points for Houston, who has knocked off both Missouri and LSU this season, which is already just one win short of last season's total.

Louisville has won eight straight meetings with Houston, and leads the all-time series 13-4.


Pitino said Tuesday that there was good an bad news with the status of injured forward Otis George. George, U of L's top front court reserve will not play tonight against Houston and might not be back on the court until the Cardinals play at Cincinnati Jan. 15.

"The good news is that [Otis's foot injury is healing, the bad news is that it is healing slower than we anticipated," Pitino said. "The more realistic goal [for getting him back] would be Cincinnati."

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