Louisville faces Arkansas in season opener

No. 20 Louisville (0-0) will open the season Tuesday night against Arkansas (1-0) in the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis, Mo.

The Razorbacks, coached by former Kentucky star John Pelphrey, who played for Pitino in the early 1990's, won their first game this season 130-68 over Alcorn State. But the Razorbacks will be without four players, including starters Courtney Fortson, the team's leading returning scorer, and Stefan Welsh.

Unlike Arkansas, the Cardinals have yet to play a regular-season game. Louisville won two exhibition games against Georgetown (KY) and Bellarmine (KY) and Pitino isn't sure what to expect from his team the first time out.

"We're going to find but I really don't know," Pitino said. "If it was a normal year with a normal opener I think we'd be ready. But this is not a normal opener. It's an SEC team without a game under your belt. The competition and atmosphere will be great."

Louisville has won 14 of their last 16 openers, including the last five straight. Even with an Arkansas team less than full strength, the Cardinals will have their hands full with Razorback forward Michael Washington and guard Rotnei Clark. The 6'9 Washington scored 14 points in the opener, while Clark scored a school-record 51 points and made an SEC-best 13 of 17 three-point field goals.

"He's a great shooter," Pitino said. "He's a great scorer and has terrific range. And he's a 90 percent foul shooter. We can't let him have that many attempts. He's terrific. We've got our work cut out for us."

Arkansas had four players in double-figures in their season-opener and Pitino expects the Razorbacks to attempt to up the tempo.

"We know Arkansas and they know us," Pitino said. "We know what they're going to do. They're very good in transition and they're an outstanding running team. They put it on the floor well and have good one-on-one players. We've got to play really good transition defense."

Arkansas made 55 percent of their shots against Alcorn State and the Razorbacks have Pitino concerned about his team's defense.

"They're trying hard," Pitino said. "But we lost three great defensive players and we're replacing them with three guys who aren't as good defensively."

Pitino will use his three-guard lineup of Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith to start against Arkansas. Samardo Samuels will start at center with Jared Swopshire at power forward.

"I don't want any offensive droughts," Pitino said. "That's one of the reasons we've struggled earlier in the year is offensive droughts. Preston stops the offensive droughts big-time. We feel we can come off the bench with high energy people – Peyton Siva, Kyle Kuric. So we're not overly concerned about that."

Louisville defeated Bellarmine 88-65 in the final exhibition warm-up Nov. 4. The Cardinals shot 50 percent from the floor, but struggled with their three-point and free throw shooting. Louisville made just 7 of 21 three's and only 11-19 foul shots. Still, Pitino is confident his team will shoot the basketball at a better clip this season.

"It's a young team but it's a fun team to watch because they pass, catch and shoot well," said Pitino. "But young teams generally aren't good defensive teams. Any time you're that young you're not going to be pleasing to the eye on defense."

The Cardinals lost their top three defensive players in Terrence Williams, Andre McGee and Earl Clark and Pitino says his team will have to learn how to be effective stopping their opponents.

"We're going to take some time to grow but we shoot the ball well," Pitino said. "I would rather have a great offensive basketball team and keep working on the defense. Defense is hard work and great effort and they just don't understand it right now."

Louisville will be without reserve center George Goode. Goode sustained a concussion during practice Nov. 8 and hasn't practiced since. Pitino said he's hopeful Goode will return this weekend. "He got hit in the mouth by Samardo, tripped over Preston Knowles and fell straight back on his head," Pitino said.

GAME FACTS - Louisville vs. Arkansas (1-0)
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 17
Time: 7:35 p.m. ET
Site: Scottrade Center (20,000), St. Louis, Mo.
TV: ESPN2 will televise the game with Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Bob Knight (analyst) and Holly Rowe (Reporter)
Radio: WHAS (840 AM) with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Doug Ormay (analyst)
Series History: Tied 3-3 all-time (0-1 in Louisville, 1-0 in Fayetteville, 2-2 neutral)
Next U of L Game: Nov. 21 vs. East Tennessee State in Freedom Hall in the Hall of Fame Showcase, 4:07 p.m. ET (WHAS-TV)

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