Louisville likes to use a pace that sucks the life out of the other guys.
It’s worked often enough that the Cardinals are in their second straight Final Four, taking their top seed Saturday against Wichita State in a national semifinal.
But with Kevin Ware sustaining the gruesome compound fracture to his right leg in Sunday’s victory over Duke, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he’s going to have to scramble to give his backcourt some depth.
Ware was the Cardinals’ first guard off the bench to back up starters Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. To replace his 17 minutes a game, Pitino may shuffle some forwards to the backcourt.
“We have a lot of frontcourt depth, but not a lot in the backcourt,” he said.
Louisville’s fourth guard has been a walk-on, junior Tim Henderson.
“We’ll have to see how deep Wichita State is in the backcourt,” Pitino added. “If they’re deep, we’ll have to make some adjustments. We’ll mix it up.”
Some of his plans include squeezing more minutes out of Henderson, moving 6-foot-6 forward Luke Hancock for some guard time and bringing in 6-5, 230-pound Wayne Blackshear for defense.
Whatever the Cardinals do, WSU freshman guard Fred Van Vleet said the Shockers will be ready.
“You want to play against the best,” he said. “They have quick guards, premier guards. That’s what you want to face.
“We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
After he finishes watching video and going over the scouting report, Pitino will find the Shockers are pretty deep in guards and wings with Malcolm Armstead, Tekele Cotton, Ron Baker and Van Vleet. Cleanthony Early, an athletic starting forward, also can play the wing.
So, yes, Pitino probably will have to do some juggling.
With Ware injuring his leg Sunday with about seven minutes left in the first half, Smith played 34 minutes and Siva 33.
“Russ was dead,” Pitino said.
Understand that all the Cardinals’ parts stay on the move, pressuring on defense and running on offense.
“They wear you down,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the 85-63 regional final loss to Louisville. “We tried to match them but couldn’t. Their guards set an amazing pace.”
Smith and Siva are relentless.
Smith, a slightly built 6-foot junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., is making a case to be named the NCAA Tournament’s top player. After four tournament games, he’s averaging 26 points while hitting 54 percent from the field and swiping 13 steals.
He draws contact like a tailback going off tackle. He’s been to the free-throw line 40 times in the tournament, hitting 32 attempts for 80 percent.
Siva scored 16 points – his high for the tournament – on Duke. It’s a stretch to say he reaches his listed 6 feet, but the senior from Seattle doesn’t slow down.
“Their guards come at you for the whole game,” Duke’s Seth Curry said. “I mean the whole game. They’re attacking you and putting pressure on you.
“You try not to put them at the line. But if you don’t do that, they’re going by you. They’re a great backcourt.”