While Tom Crean's Golden Eagles have dropped three of their last four games heading into tonight's 7 PM clash in Freedom Hall, Rick Pitino's Cardinals are arguably one of the nation's hottest teams - winners of ten of their past eleven games.
Coming off a 76-66 loss to Charlotte over the weekend, Marquette enters tonight's game against Louisville limping - literally.
The status of Travis Diener, the Eagles leading scorer and floor general, for tonight's game is anything but certain. He's been hampered most of the season by an ankle injury and the injury appeared to worsen in the loss to the 49ers. Whether he'll play tonight against the Cardinals or rest the ankle - there's strong speculation in Milwaukee that he'll sit - for the stretch run remains to be seen.
"He has a strong desire and plays hurt," said Pitino of Diener, who missed Monday's practice. "He started limping in the last game (against Charlotte) but you can't feel sorry for him because then Lazurus comes walking in and he's great and he kills you. He's still very dangerous."
Crean sounded less optimistic about Diener's ability to impersonate Lazarus tonight.
"We're treating it as a recurring ankle injury," Tom Crean told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, who added that tests done over the weekend revealed no further damage. "There hasn't been a lot of change since the other day. At this point, as much as you want to hope his status is good, he's uncertain. We'll do whatever the doctors feel is necessary. He's definitely got to improve. We've got eleven games left, so whatever has to happen has to happen."
Still, Pitino has to prepare his team as though Diener will take the court tonight. That's why the U of L coach spent Tuesday afternoon discussing the best way to shut down the injured Diener.
"We have to wear him down and make him take difficult shots," said Pitino. "I don't think one guy can stop Travis Diener. Memphis did an excellent job with him - they trapped him, were very aggressive and athletically got after him. But I don't think anybody in this league can stop him one-on-one, especially with the way that they screen for him. It's going to take a team effort defensively to stop him."
Unfortunately for Crean, Diener's ankle injury isn't his only concern. The flu has ravaged through his roster, forcing 6-9 Cardinal-killer Steve Novak to miss yesterday's practice because of illness. Diener's back-up, Joe Chapman, also missed practice Monday with the flu, while 6-7 Todd Townsend and 6-8 Marcus Jackson are both still trying to shake the lingering effects of the virus.
"The flu is really running through here," Crean said in the MJSO. "It's a tough week for that to happen."
No stranger to injuries and the effect they can have on a team, Louisville senior Ellis Myles expects Marquette to come out swinging.
"I think this is a game that they have to have," said Myles. "They fell out of the top 25 this weekend and they're going to come in here jacked up and out to get us. [But] we'll be ready."
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