Willard prepares to face mentor in matchup with Louisville
After a 13-point loss to Notre Dame, in which the Pirates scored their fewest points in a game since 2005, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team will face the No. 25 Louisville Cardinals on Saturday.
The Cardinals are 16-5 this season with a 4-4 mark in the Big East.
Senior Kyle Kuric, the team’s leading scorer, averages 13.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Kuric returned to the court for Louisville on Jan. 21 against Pittsburgh after missing two games due to a high ankle sprain.
In addition to Kuric, sophomore Gorgui Dieng has been a major impact for the Cardinals this season. Dieng only averages 10.2 points per game, but makes his mark in the paint, averaging 9.4 rebounds a game.
He is also the team’s main defensive weapon, currently sixth in the nation with an average of 3.3 blocks per game.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has had to deal with injury problems all season. Last week, the school announced that junior forward Rakeem Buckles would miss the entire season with a torn right ACL just one year after tearing his left ACL.
Pitino said he was “crushed” over the injury, while the team’s head trainer, Fred Hina, said “coming back from a second major knee surgery, (Buckles’) recovery is expected to take well over a year.”
“I don’t think any of us could imagine this happening to such a fine young man,” Pitino said in a press release.
Buckles isn’t the only player Pitino lost this season to knee problems. Junior guard Mike Marra tore his left ACL in a game in November and is expected to be healthy by the start of next season.
Eight of Louisville’s players have missed at least one game this season with injury, including freshman guard Wayne Blackshear, who is expected to play his first game as a Cardinal this month.
Junior forward Stephan Van Treese also returned from injury this month after missing the first 16 games of the season.
The matchup between the Cardinals and Pirates is unique considering Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard calls Pitino his mentor, having served as an assistant under him with Louisville and with the Boston Celtics.
“Nothing surprises me when it comes to Kevin Willard,” Pitino told reporters at the Big East coaches teleconference in early January. “He is one of the most brilliant young men I have had the fortune to work with. He has a tireless work ethic.”
Pitino went on to talk about Willard’s situation growing up, having givwn up his senior season as a player at Pittsburgh to be a graduate assistant with the Celtics.
The Pirates are 5-9 all-time against Louisville, but the two schools have split the last four meetings.
Last season, the Pirates were defeated by the Cardinals on the road, 73-54.
Sophomore forward Fuquan Edwin led the Pirates that night with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Saturday’s matchup with Louisville is scheduled for 8 p.m. at the Prudential Center.
John Lopiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.