The flu bug has bitten the fourth-ranked University of Louisville basketball team on the cusp of its Big East Conference opener against Providence (8-4) Wednesday night at 6 o'clock, with coach Rick Pitino calling forward Chane Behanan doubtful.
Of course, as any Cardinal fan knows by now, it's best to take any statement Pitino makes about injuries or illness with a grain of salt. But if Behanan, indeed, is unavailable, his spot in the starting lineup will be filled by freshman Montrezl Harrell.
"We'll see," Pitino said. "If Chane can't play, we'll just go with Montrezl. He's a pretty good player."
Still, Behanan's absence would be a significant loss for the Cards (12-2), who will be seeking their eighth straight win. The 6-6 sophomore is coming off the best overall performance of his career, with 20 points, seven rebounds and a season-high three assists and three steals in last Saturday's 80-77 win over Kentucky. And over the last four games, he has averaged 17.5 points, 7.l0 rebounds and shot 60 percent from the field (27-of-45).
"Chane has worked hard at becoming the player he should be in the last month or so," Pitino says. "He's being offfensively aggressive. I'm still not pleased with his rebounding or his defense, but I am pleased with the way he's playing."
Harrell started the season opener against Manhattan instead of Behanan, and since then has been a major contributor off the bench, averaging 6.7 points, 4.5 boards and 19.5 minutes.
Pitino said he was sick during the UK game and assistant coach Kevin Keatts and redshirting freshman Mangok Mathiang are also ailing.
"We're a little under the weather right now," Pitino said. "Our practices hve not been good and we're hoping it's not a long bug."
Last year against Providence, eventual Final Four participant UofL threw in one of the biggest clunkers of Pitino's career when the Friars romped to a shocking 90-59 win in the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Providence shot 52.8 percent to UofL's 37.9 and outrebounded the Cards 40-25.
"They were extremely hot and made shots that were very difficult and it just snowballed," Pitino said. "A lot of people panicked and we didn't. We came back and said, it's an aberration. Happens in both pro and college basketball, it's no big deal. We don't suscribe to the one-game theory that makes or breaks a team unless it's the NCAA Tournament.
"So it didn't bother us, we didn't dwell on it. Sometimes you've just got to give the other team credit, and we played a bad game. I think we were embarrassed by our performance and we learned if we don't play intelligent basketball you can get blown out."
Pitino calls this year's Providence team "very dangerous" offensively, adding, "they can beat anybody on a given night, but if we're any good and we have any pride in ourselves at all, that won't happen."
The Friars boast three players who rank among the top 10 scorers in the Big East, led by 6-1 junior college transfer Bryce Cotton (22.0 ppg), who is No. 1. Sophomore forward LaDontae Henton (17.3 ppg) is No. 7 and junior forward Kadeem Batts (16.6 ppg) is No. 9. But as a team, the Friars are only 11th in the conference in scoring (69.5 ppg), 13th in field goal percentage (44.4) and last in 3-point percentage (30.0).
Pitino is stressing defensive improvement with the Cards, saying he was unhappy with their second-half performance against UK in which they squandered a 17-point lead as the Wildcats shot 58.1 percent (18-31).
"The game was never in doubt because we kept scoring, but you have to play defense," Pitino said. "You can't trade baskets like that because you're going to wind up losing if you do. There were a lot of mistakes defensively that should not have occurred, a lot of people making them. So we're not where we need to be defensively."
UofL has won its Big East opener three of the last four years, but fell last season at home to Georgetown, 71-68, and went on to finish seventh in the league (10-8) before rallying to win the conference tournament. Overall, the Cards are 3-4 in Big East openers.