After suffering another injury in his backcourt, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said senior Edgar Sosa would be the team’s key player for the near future.
That future for Sosa and the 20th-ranked Cardinals begins Saturday night against visiting Charlotte.
Junior starter Preston Knowles and freshman reserve Peyton Siva are both recovering from minor ailments to their shooting hands, and expected to miss a second straight game Saturday. Adding to the wounded, senior Jerry Smith strained his Achilles’ tendon in practice Thursday - one day after scoring a season-high 17 points in a 80-48 win victory over Stetson.
Smith is now out indefinitely, leaving the Cardinals (5-1) with three guards - Sosa, Reginald Delk and Chris Brickley - a 23-year-old walk-on with 48 career minutes played over a span of five years.
“Edgar is going to have to really play intelligently in terms of fouls and in terms staying in the game the right way,” Pitino said of Sosa, who has yet to play 30 minutes in a game this season. “So much is dependent on him pushing the pace of the game as a point guard.”
After shooting less than 40 percent and averaging fewer than eight points in each of the last two seasons, Sosa is shooting a career-best 48.3 percent and has reached double figures in each game of 2009-10. His 14.0 points per game rank second on the team behind Samardo Samuels (16.3).
Despite playing with a bruised knee, Sosa had 15 points in Wednesday’s victory and hit all three of his 3-point attempts to improve to 45.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Aside from Sosa and Samuels, the Cardinals lineup won’t feature much experience in this contest. George Goode is expected to make his first career start, while fellow sophomore forward Kyle Kuric is slated for his second start - and first of the season.
Delk is expected to start for the third time since transferring from Mississippi State following 2006-07.
With those relatively new faces on the floor, the Cardinals will try to deny the 49ers (5-1) their best start since 2000-01, and a fourth straight win.
To accomplish that, they’ll likely need to keep junior forward Shamari Spears, who is among the nation’s leading scorers at 21.8 points per game, cool.
A transfer from Boston College, Spears averaged 24.3 points on 62.3 percent shooting in his first four games, but missed 5 of 7 shots and was held to 12 points in Wednesday night’s 80-68 home win over East Carolina.
Senior guard DiJuan Harris compensated with a season-high 17 points. He’s the only other 49er averaging in double figures (10.5 ppg), but Charlotte has four players contributing at least seven points per game.
“This is a team that has a devastating inside attack,” Pitino said. “They’re a great transition team, and they’ve got guys that can beat you off the bounce on the perimeter. This will be a real interesting game, to say the least, for us.”
These former Conference USA rivals haven’t met since the Cardinals’ 94-82 victory at Freedom Hall on March 3, 2005. The following season, Louisville moved to the Big East and Charlotte became a member of the Atlantic 10.
Louisville leads the series 16-15, including a 10-5 mark at home.