February 13, 2015

Louisville may again lean heavily on Montrezl Harrell if Wayne Blackshear remains sidelined.

Harrell looks to build on perhaps his best overall effort of the season Saturday, when the ninth-ranked Cardinals face visiting North Carolina State for the first time in 27 years.

Harrell is fourth in the ACC with a career-high 9.2 rebounds per game, and second on the team with a personal-best 15.8 points. The junior forward was even better than that Wednesday, setting career highs with five blocks and 12 baskets while scoring 28 points with 12 boards to power a 69-56 win over Pittsburgh.

"Even when he gets double-teamed, he can get to places you shouldn't go and still get to the rim," coach Rick Pitino said. "He can go behind the backboard, come back in, and still be above the rim. He's got tremendous length."

The Cardinals (20-4, 8-3) could be looking for Harrell frequently again with Blackshear potentially sidelined with a hip pointer, which forced the senior swingman to exit after 1 minute Wednesday.

"He's not ready for contact," Pitino said. "I would say he's about 60-70 percent back. Whether he'll play (Saturday), I'm not sure. The normal thing, 'oh, he'll play' I would lean the other way. He still was grimacing with certain moves. We'll either go in a number of different ways, but we'll see what happens."

Having Blackshear available would give Louisville a threat from beyond the arc. He leads the team with 37 made 3s and 121 attempts, but his 30.6 percent shooting from 3-point range is down from 39.5 last season.

The Cardinals, who average 19.0 3-point attempts, missed all four 3s against Pitt - the fewest taken during Pitino's 14 seasons at Louisville - but the coach felt they compensated for it.

"Who needs the 3 when you get layups and back doors and post-ups?," Pitino said.

North Carolina State (14-11, 5-7) struggled mightily offensively Wednesday, shooting 33.3 percent - 3 for 17 from long range - while falling 51-47 to No. 2 Virginia. A fifth loss in six games has put the Wolfpack's NCAA tournament chances in doubt.

"We've put ourselves behind in a great way," coach Mark Gottfried said, "and now we've got to figure out how to finish in a flurry."

That certainly applies to Ralston Turner, who had four points while missing all six attempts from beyond the arc Wednesday. The senior is 7 for 33 (21.2 percent) from the floor - 4 for 22 from 3-point range - over the past three games.

Despite N.C. State's recent struggles, Pitino isn't taking them lightly.

"N.C. State has as much athletic ability as you'll find in the ACC," he said. "They're quick. They're long. They're big. They're great in transition. They're a very difficult team to prepare for because you can't concentrate on one area. They can beat you so many ways."

Louisville and N.C. State have split 16 all-time matchups, but they haven't met since a Wolfpack win on Feb. 13, 1988.

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