Although Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said recently that center Gorgui Dieng probably wouldn't return to action until Jan. 2 against Providence, Pitino said Friday that he's still hopeful to have his 6-foot-11 junior back in the lineup for Kentucky on Dec. 29.
The decision as to Dieng's availability for the 4 p.m. nationally-televised game in the KFC Yum! Center will come Wednesday after x-rays to determine if the broken bone in his left wrist has healed properly. X-rays this past Monday indicated that the bone had not healed from surgery to insert a screw on Nov. 27.
Dieng suffered the injury on Nov. 23 in UofL's win over Missouri in the Bahamas. When the No. 5/4 Cardinals (10-1) meet Western Kentucky (8-4) Saturday night in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, it will mark the seventh straight game Dieng has missed.
Asked if he has hopes that Dieng could play against UK, Pitino said:
"Yeah, I do. I also hoped he was going to play against Western, but I'm the opposite of the trainer and doctor. All those guys always push it two weeks beyond what it should be to cover themselves. They say 4-to-6 weeks just so if it takes six weeks it doesn't look like they're a bad doctor. But if he comes back in four weeks it's just unbelievable surgery."
Dieng has been running to stay in condition and Pitino says he is in "great shape," adding that "I would say he's in better shape than the rest of the guys because we've been running him by himself for one hour every single day."
If Dieng is cleared to play against the Wildcats, Pitino doesn't anticipate any lingering problems from his injury.
"We're throwing the ball hard to him now and he has no trouble catching it," Pitino said. "He uses the left hand on jump hooks. If you didn't put the screw in it would be 2-3 months, but the screw makes it happen in four weeks."
Pitino has said that Louisville misses Dieng the most at the defensive end of the court because of his shot-blocking and indimidation factor, but he says Dieng is also missed on offense.
"Gorgui really has become sort of like David Padgett, who was a facilitator in the middle and got everybody shots," Pitino says. "And Gorgui has gotten to the point where he's like David a lot, except that he shoots the ball much better from 15-16 feet. We really miss his passing skills, the way he catches the basketball, all those little things you may not notice in the stats sheet, he does."
However, Pitino says Dieng's absence has enabled Louisville to develop sophomore forward Zach Price and freshman Montrezl Harrell, who has spent time both at power forward and center while Dieng has been sidelined.
Those two, along with senior Stephan VanTreese, have combined to average 10.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, but it's Harrell who has benefitted most from the extra playing time.
"We've been able to play Montrez at the 5 spot," Pitino said. "I think if Gorgui was here we wouldn't have done that and that's a really positive thing for us because he has struggled. We tried it earlier, we wanted to play him and Chane together, but Montrezl struggled with learning the 5 spot offensively and now he's picked it up. So that's a big positive."