Louisville's basketball team will try to bounce back from its heartbreaking loss to Syracuse Monday and start another winning streak, but they may have to do it without a healthy starting power forward, Chane Behanan.
UofL coach Rick Pitino said during his press conference Friday afternoon that Behanan has the flu, but is expected to play Noon Saturday at Allstate Arena.
"We'll take him with us, put a mask on him, make him sit in the back of the plane, take him with us and see how he feels tomorrow," Pitino said. "But he'll be near 100 percent -- at least we hope so.
"If you don't handle the ball well against DePaul's press, it can be a difficult night. They were up on a lot of people and you have to play a 40-minute game against them. We've got to make shots, we have to attack them inside too. We hope that Chane can play because we're going to try to attack them inside."
The Cardinals hope to start a new winning streak, and what better time for an opponent to come along like DePaul (11-14, 2-11), which is in last-place in the Big East Conference and has been a reliable whipping boy for the No. 19/18 Cardinals (20-6, 8-5).
UofL has beaten the Blue Demons eight straight times, including a 76-59 win on Jan. 14 in the KFC Yum! Center. In that game, scored a career-high 25 points, Chris Smith added 20 and center Gorgui Dieng notched a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. The Cards held DePaul forward Cleveland Melvin, the league's third-leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, to just eight points on 3-of-11 shooting with six turnovers.
Pitino also hopes the Cards' free throw shooters will be over whatever ailed them in the 52-51 loss to Syracuse when the hosts missed 9-of-21 attempts after hitting 13-of-15 two days earlier in a 77-74 win at West Virginia. Go figure.
"Twelve-for-21 with the amount of time we spend on it is inexcusable," Pitino said."I can't answer to why guys make or miss. I just know we spend a lot of time. We make them usually in crunch time."
Heading into their last five Big East games, the Cards still have a shot at a double-bye in the next month's conference tournament that goes to the top four teams, but it's an uphill battle. They're tied with Cincinnati for sixth place, two games out of second, and four of the teams ahead of them own the tie-breaker by virtue of wins over UofL (USF, the fifth-place team at 8-4 visits the Yum! Center on Feb. 29).
But Pitino claims he doesn't care that much about earning a double-bye, which means UofL would have to play only two games to reach the championship tilt rather than three.
"Somebody asked a question about how important is it to get that double-bye and my answer is it's really not that important," Pitino said. "If I had my choice between 4th and 5th place, I may want to take 5th to get the extra game, just to get Wayne Blackshear some more work.
"That was my point, but right now we're just looking at. . .some people are playing to advance in the seeding department, some people are playing to improve. There are a lot of factors and we're playing for all of the above."
DePaul has lost five in a row, including Wednesday night's 80-54 drubbing by Connecticut. The other four losses came against St. John's (87-81), Cincinnati (74-66), Marquette (89-76) and Notre Dame (84-76).
"We're obviously real close," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "When you're making a transition and you're trying to build and you're trying to get better and learn to win, you have to understand where you are and just keep hitting that rock. And make your players understand that.
"Everybody who is not close to the program and not working every day and not doing what we're doing … maybe they don't understand. But it is really important that our coaching staff and players understand that we're real close and we just keep battling. Hopefully we can get over the hump."
The Cards just hope it doesn't happen Saturday.