Cards getting healthy for Big East opener

Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals (9-3) are getting healthy as the calendar turns to 2008 - just in time for their Big East conference opener against Cincinnati on New Year's Day.

Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals are getting healthy as the calendar turns to 2008.

The 9-3 Cardinals have weathered early season injuries to seniors Juan Palacios and David Padgett. Palacios returned Dec. 22 from a torn MCL in his right knee and produced four points, six rebounds and three assists in Louisville 67-36 win over Iona last Saturday.

Padgett, who fractured his knee cap November 18 against Jackson State, could make his return in Tuesday's Big East opener against Cincinnati.

"It's hard to understand how devastating injuries are to a basketball team just from a cohesiveness in practice," Pitino said. "Once you get guys back the practices become much better; the confidence rises and the passing becomes much better. These guys are so anxious for David to come back. Now that we've become healthy we're getting continuity and good repetition."

Palacios has played in Louisville's last three games and is still rounding back into form. Still, his presence in the lineup has made a noticeable difference for the Cardinals, who have won four consecutive games.

"Tello and David had very difficult injuries because neither one of them are probably going to be 100 percent this year," Pitino said. "I don't think Tello will get his jumping back this year but he'll get everything else back as far as his timing is concerned. Automatically when he goes in the game our press is better and our ball movement is better because he really understands the game."

While Louisville enters having won their last four games, Cincinnati has lost five of their last six games. The Bearcats, 5-7, are coming off a 56-50 win over Miami (Ohio).

"They are battle tested," Pitino said. "If you look at the Cincinnati-Xavier game or the Cincinnati-Memphis game – they probably played Memphis as tough as anyone. They're a tough defensive team, tough on the backboard – very physical as most Cincinnati teams are."

Cincinnati, coached by former Louisville assistant Mick Cronin, is led by sophomore point guard Deonta Vaughn and hard-nosed forward John Williamson. Vaughn leads the Bearcats in scoring with a 15.5 average, while Williamson averages a team-best 6.8 rebounds.

"They are very athletic and very quick," Pitino said. "They give you a lot of different looks – from zone to man, three-quarter court pressure, full-court pressure.

"Cincinnati is as good athletically and defensively as any team in the conference," Pitino said. "They have a very good five-man and a four-man who kills the glass. They're three scores and killed us last year. Their point guard is coming off an excellent game against Miami of Ohio. They gave Memphis all they could handle."

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