Just days from a meeting with its biggest rival, Louisville lost one of its toughest and most vocal players.
The 16th-ranked Cardinals will begin play without center Mangok Mathiang when they host Missouri-Kansas City on Tuesday night in the first of back-to-back tuneups before Saturday's in-state tussle with No. 12 Kentucky.
Mathiang is expected to miss six to eight weeks after suffering a broken bone in his left foot during Saturday's 78-56 win over Western Kentucky. The 6-foot-10 junior, second on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game, underwent surgery Sunday to have a screw inserted into his foot.
"Not only is he the best physical player, defensively and offensively, but he talks the most," coach Rick Pitino said. "We can replace the physical stuff, it's the talking. ... One good thing is, we've got some depth."
While the Cardinals are sure to miss his on-court presence, Mathiang expects to contribute in other ways.
''I'm the vocal leader on this team,'' he said. ''Whether I'm on the floor or not on the floor, I'm always going to be there and let my teammates hear me.''
Tuesday's game is part of the Billy Minardi Classic, named for Pitino's best friend and brother-in-law, who was killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York. The Cardinals, who have a 16-1 record in the annual event, will finish the back-to-back set Wednesday against Utah Valley.
Though Mathiang is out for the foreseeable future, Louisville (9-1) expects to return at least two players from injury this week. Freshman Deng Adel started the first two games before suffering a knee injury in practice Nov. 20, and guard Dillon Avare is also expected to return after missing seven games with a foot injury. Seven-footer Anas Mahmoud has sat out the last two games with an ankle sprain.
Greatly due to their second-ranked defense (55.6 points per game) and a light schedule so far, the Cardinals lead the nation in scoring margin at 30.4 points per game. They rank 12th in scoring (86.0) and sixth in field-goal percentage (51.8) with eight games over the 50-percent mark, matching their total from all of last season.
Quentin Snider had 16 points Saturday when the Cardinals held the Hilltoppers to 16 points in the first half.
''When a team shoots 33 percent and only has three offensive rebounds, and no 3s, you're doing everything correct,'' Pitino said.
It was only the second time this season that Damion Lee didn't lead Louisville in scoring. The fifth-year guard had 15 as he shot a season-worst 4 for 12, but Lee still ranks fourth in the ACC with 18.3 points per game.
Snider is averaging 12.5 points and 6.0 assists during Louisville's four-game winning streak after having season lows of four points and one assist in the Dec. 2 loss to current-No. 1 Michigan State.
Junior Martez Harrison, the reigning Western Athletic Conference player of the year, ranks third in the WAC this season with 16.0 points per game. UMKC is 1-3 when he fails to reach that average.
Louisville easily won the previous two games against UMKC, including 99-47 in December 2012 and 90-62 the following December. The Cardinals are 8-1 against current WAC members.
The Kangaroos have lost their last nine games against ranked teams by an average of 37.6 points.