RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Anthony ''Cat'' Barber insists he's fresh and can handle the huge load he's carrying for North Carolina State.
Maybe he's right. But the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading scorer could use some help with scoring and ball-handling duties if North Carolina State wants to beat No. 16 Louisville on Thursday night, not to mention get back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in as many seasons under Mark Gottfried.
''I feel good right now,'' Barber said after Wednesday afternoon's practice. ''I just get my rest, get treatment to keep my legs fresh. But I'm kind of used to it now going into ACC play throughout the year, so I feel pretty good.''
Barber has been terrific for the Wolfpack (10-4, 0-1 ACC) all season. The Newport News, Virginia native ranks 10th nationally at 22.9 points per game with improved range on his jumper to go with the oncourt speed he brought with him to Raleigh two seasons ago.
He also ranks second nationally in both free throws made (116) and attempted (137) while converting at nearly 85 percent, and has a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat High Point.
His role at the helm of the Wolfpack's offense is just as critical.
After averaging nearly 32 minutes per game last year, he ranks second nationally by averaging 38.9 minutes and has played 40 or more minutes seven times this season. He has sat on the bench for 43 seconds of game time over the last six games.
That's a lot of mileage on his lean 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame for a team with eight healthy scholarship players and a seven-man rotation.
''The way I look at it, if you play 40 minutes or you play 37 or 35, I'm not sure there's a huge difference in that,'' Gottfried said.
''We may find some times here and there to rest Cat, I think that's very doable. But he's also the kind of guy that can play a lot of minutes. He's not one of those guys I worry about him wearing down at all.''
It wasn't supposed to be quite like this for the Wolfpack. But all-ACC guard Trevor Lacey made an unexpected offseason departure to pursue a professional career, while West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson is still potentially weeks away from returning from surgery for an opening-night ankle injury.
North Carolina State sophomore 6-7 wing Caleb Martin got off to a strong start as a No. 2 scorer, but he's averaged 6.2 points and shot 22 percent over the past six games. His twin, Cody, is essentially the backup point guard.
Barber scored 21 points to help N.C. State beat Louisville on the road last year, though he had help from Lacey against the Cardinals' pressure. That win helped propel the Wolfpack to a final-month surge to the NCAA Sweet 16 before falling to the Cardinals (12-2, 1-0).
With Lacey gone, will Louisville focus on trying to wear down Barber this time?
''Didn't work too well at home last year, so I don't think there's a whole lot there,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Wednesday. ''He'll pace himself. We have to be careful with a lot of things we do in this basketball game. They're great in transition.''
AP Freelance Writer Josh Abner in Louisville, Kentucky contributed to this report.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org