A rash of injuries has not prevented Louisville from getting off to a strong start in the Big East.
Likely to be short-handed again Saturday, the No. 19 Cardinals look for a 10th consecutive victory over struggling Providence, which has not won a Big East game in almost a year.
Eight players have missed games this season for the Cardinals (15-3, 4-1). Junior forward Terrence Jennings - averaging 8.6 points - may miss a second straight game Saturday with a hip injury, and sophomore guard Mike Marra could be out for his third in a row with a sprained ankle. Power forwards Jared Swopshire (groin) and Rakeem Buckles (broken finger) are also ailing.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said coach Rick Pitino, who did not return a single starter from last season’s 20-13 squad. “As bad as it is … we have great resilience.”
Those injuries have forced Pitino to utilize more of his roster. All but three players have started at least one game for the Cardinals, who nonetheless average a Big East-leading 81.1 points.
“I was very surprised,” Pitino said. “These guys don’t care about injuries. Someone else stepped up.”
Louisville’s only conference loss came at seventh-ranked Villanova, 88-74 on Jan. 12.
Leading scorer Preston Knowles (16.1 points per game), who has started all but once this season, scored 25 points in an 88-63 home win over St. John’s on Wednesday. Reserve guard Kyle Kuric added 20 as the Cardinals shot 53.2 percent four days after rallying from an 18-point deficit to beat Marquette 71-70.
“They play with great confidence on offense,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said.
Louisville has not faced many deficits against Providence (11-8, 0-6) of late. The Cardinals’ last three victories over the Friars have been decided by an average of 19.3 points.
The Cardinals shot 51.7 percent in a 92-70 win at Providence in the teams’ last meeting Jan. 6, 2010.
Pitino, who guided Providence to the Final Four in 1987, is 6-0 all-time against the Friars and has been Louisville’s coach for all six meetings since the Cardinals joined the Big East. Overall, Louisville has won nine straight in this series since a 57-51 Providence victory Nov. 30, 1977.
That streak looks likely to continue Saturday.
Ranked 15th in the 16-team Big East with 72.3 points per game allowed, Providence has yielded an average of 85.0 in the last four losses of the six-game losing streak that spans its conference schedule.
“We’re not going to be happy with being one of the teams trying to upset Top 20 teams,” Friars coach Keno Davis said. “We’re trying to get there. I don’t have any doubt we will. I have some doubts that we’ll get there this year.”
Giving the Friars good production on the offensive end, senior swingman Marshon Brooks’ 23.4 points per game rank second in the Big East behind UConn’s Kemba Walker (25.5 ppg).
Brooks, who scored 28 in the loss to South Florida, had 21 while shooting 8 of 11 in last season’s loss to Louisville. He had totaled 11 points in his previous three games against the Cardinals.