LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville is making a run at the Atlantic Coast Conference title despite its recent rash of injuries and suspensions.
The No. 8 Cardinals had just seven scholarship players during a loss at No. 14 Virginia 11 days ago and enter this weekend with guard Tony Hicks (hand) and forward V.J. King (thigh) sidelined. Having hoped to be at full strength by now, coach Rick Pitino believes the adversity has helped his squad.
''I think we're confident because of what we've been through,'' Pitino said on Friday.
Louisville (21-5, 9-4) is tied with No. 17 Florida State and No. 12 Duke for second place, with the trio one game behind first-place North Carolina. A Wednesday night showdown in Chapel Hill looms after Saturday's game against Virginia Tech (18-7, 7-6) in which the Cardinals will have to do more with less.
Hicks was expected to miss 4-6 weeks after breaking a bone in his right hand in a win at Pittsburgh but had progressed quickly enough that Pitino hoped to have the graduate transfer back for the Hokies. He'll miss two more weeks after X-rays Friday revealed the hand isn't fully healed.
King bruised his thigh in practice but is out only against the Hokies. The 6-foot-6 freshman scored a career-high 24 points in the 71-55 loss to the Cavaliers - a bright spot on a night that Louisville played with Hicks and starting point guard Quentin Snider (hip) sidelined by injury. Center/forward Mangok Mathiang and guard Deng Adel were suspended for that game for missing curfew.
Pitino said King's absence against the Hokies means an opportunity for little-used sophomore forward Jay Henderson to ''step up for this game. ... and hopefully he will.''
If Louisville's play while short-handed offered any hints, the Cardinals seem capable of filling the void.
After all, they went 4-2 without Snider, whose return last Saturday against Miami after nearly a month away restored continuity to the Cardinals' offense. During that time leading scorer Donovan Mitchell picked up the scoring slack and posted 57 points over two games.
With Mitchell on the bench after fouling out in regulation at Syracuse, redshirt freshman guard Ryan McMahon scored Louisville's first five points in OT and seven overall in the extra session to gut out a 76-72 win. Snider meanwhile has combined for 27 points and 10 assists the past two games - including six assists at Syracuse - while forward Jaylen Johnson has averaged 10 points and 7.5 rebounds over that stretch.
The Cardinals aim to keep chipping in against Virginia Tech, which has overcome double-digit, second-half deficits to defeat No. 12 Virginia and Pittsburgh this week.
Pitino said the challenge for Louisville's shorter bench is keeping the Hokies off the free-throw line better than last season's 91-83 victory in Blacksburg. Tech made 33 of 38 attempts in that last meeting, which the Cardinals offset with 52 percent shooting and scoring from nine of 10 players.
''They look to draw fouls on every play, and that's the thing that concerns you the most when you're down four scholarship players,'' said Pitino, figuring in two spots the program gave up last spring in self-imposed sanctions.
''Everybody has to be ready to contribute in this game.''
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