No. 5 Louisville posting up little-used big men
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville's Zach Price and Stephan Van Treese a week ago spent most of the game watching their teammates play.
Now they're holding down the middle for the No. 5 Cardinals (5-1).
With starting center Gorgui Dieng sidelined until January with a broken left wrist he suffered eight days ago, the two reserves are getting extended minutes.
Price and Treese enter Saturday's game against Illinois State averaging a combined 3.0 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. That's a drop-off from Dieng's 8.2 points and 8.0 rebounds.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn't expect them to replace Dieng, and doesn't want them to try. He hopes that each focuses on creating their own inside niche. Whether they do will likely depend on how much confidence they develop from being in the fray.
``I'm very confident in them, but they're not Gorgui,'' Pitino said Friday. ``They'll do a good job. But it's up to Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock and Kevin Ware to pick up their games to a higher level because you can't make up for Gorgui with Zach and Stephan.
``You can certainly hold your own but they're not going to be Gorgui, so the other guys have got to pick up their games in order for you not to slip.''
Saturday will mark the second game with extensive playing time for 6-foot-10 sophomore Price and 6-9 senior Van Treese.
Dieng was injured in Louisville's semifinal victory over Missouri at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. He returned with his wrist wrapped and eventually played 24 minutes but missed the championship game loss to Duke.
Price made his first career start in that game with Van Treese coming off the bench, and the combination produced promising numbers. Van Treese had eight points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes while Price added four points and three rebounds in 19.
More encouraging to Pitino was how both played against Blue Devils' big man Mason Plumlee, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Besides relishing the challenge, each seemed to handle the extra minutes well.
Now it's a matter of boosting their confidence.
Price said the Duke game helped him.
``My teammates were definitely on my side throughout the whole game, telling me things that I need to do,'' Price said. ``Just being able to play against a great player like Mason Plumlee is just really building my confidence up.''
Price may not give the Cardinals the presence inside they're used to, but he provides size comparable to the 6-11 Dieng. Pitino also believes the increased time will also help him become more comfortable with understanding how to play his position.
``He's a big body, he jumps well, he's got a good hook inside,'' the coach said. ``His biggest weakness is low self-esteem. I told him, go out there and say, `I'm the best big man on the court' and then go show it because he has the ability to do it.
``I think he's a much better player than he knows he is. I've always expected him to do more. So, we're hoping he can.''
Knee injuries have limited Van Treese's ability to contribute, to the point where he almost transferred after last season's Final Four run. He decided to stay with the Cardinals after talking with Pitino.
He is glad he did and improved health has a lot to do with his attitude.
Though nowhere close to what he considered his peak condition as a sophomore, the Indianapolis native feels ``100 percent'' now after not playing for six months during his recovery.
Versatile enough to play center or power forward and obviously familiarity with Pitino's system, Van Treese hopes to use this opportunity to expand his offensive skills.
``It's unfortunate for Gorgui, but I'm excited to step into his role,'' Van Treese said. ``I know all the plays and practice against these guys every day. ... I haven't always been so confident with my offensive game, but I can pass out of the zone and create shots for Luke and Wayne in the corner. I feel like I bring that to the table.''
While that figures to help the Cardinals' depth later in the season, Pitino leaves no doubt about how much Louisville will miss Dieng. He set a school record with 128 blocks last season and provided the inside presence the coach believes the Cardinals need to make another championship run.
For now, that role will be a two-man job shared by Price and Van Treese.