About 15 minutes after Louisville's 78-66 victory over Rutgers Saturday, UofL coach Rick Pitino called injured starting center Gorgui Dieng "doubtful" for Monday night's game against defending national champion, but slumping Connecticut (15-7, 5-5) in the KFC Yum! Center. Pitino obviously hadn't checked with Dieng.
"I'm ready to play," the 6-foot-10 sophomore declared, even though he didn't look ready, standing in the locker room with his right foot heavily wrapped.
The home crowd of 21,298 held its collective breath and Pitino walked onto the court to check on Dieng after he went down with a sprained right ankle with 14:55 remaining. He limped off the court with the help of trainer Fred Hina, without putting any weight on the ankle and the injury looked serious. But Dieng returned three minutes later and stayed until the game was safely in the win column, leaving with 1:30 left.
Dieng's availability for UConn probably will probably be a gametime decision, even though he was adamant that he'll play.
"I care about this team more than anything," said Dieng, who finished with eight points, four rebounds and matched his career high with seven blocked shots. "Anything I can do to help my team win, I'm ready for. Everybody works hard on this team and I don't want to let anybody down."
Pitino refused to be pinned down on whether or not Dieng will be able to play against the Huskies. "I have no idea," he said. "What I have seen in the past is that you can play on it, but then it will swell. If it was a high ankle sprain, then he's not playing, but it wasn't a high ankle sprain. He will take tomorrow (Sunday) off and rest it and we'll see what happens."
If Dieng can't go, Pitino's options are limited. He said he would probably use 6-10 freshman Zach Price, although Jared Swopshire replaced Dieng against Rutgers and Price played only five scoreless minutes with one rebound.
The Cardinals (18-5, 6-4), who will be trying to extend their winning streak to five, need Dieng because of UConn's size inside with 6-10 freshman Andre Drummond, 6-9 junior Alex Oriahki and 6-9 sophomore TYler Olander, along with penetrating guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. Drummond is second to Dieng in the Big East in blocked shots with 2.1 per game and fifth in rebounding at 9.2.
UConn snapped a four-game losing streak Saturday with a 69-46 win over Seton Hall in Hartford. The Huskies are being coached by associate head coach George Blaney because Jim Calhoun has taken an indefinite medical leave of absence.
The game will feature a showdown between two of the leading candidates for conference Freshman of the Year honors in Drummond and UofL forward Chane Behanan, a clash Behanan says he is excited about.
"Especially since this is the first time I've played against him," Behanan said. "It's going to be a challenge. He's big, rebounds and I heard he can jump out of the gym. I don't know if that's true or not. But they've got to face us too."
Maybe without Dieng, however, which would be a serious blow to UofL's chances. "We're used to goiing without guys at times, but Gorgui is one of those guys we need in the game to change shots," UofL guard Chris Smith said. "They've got Drummond inside, so it would be a tough game without Gorgui."