No. 5 Louisville posting up little-used big men
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — 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 his 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.
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.
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 Price 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.
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.