LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Former assistant Marvin Menzies might not
be the only familiar face Rick Pitino gets a look at on Saturday
when Louisville hosts New Mexico State in the Billy Minardi
Louisville forward Juan Palacios, out since October with a knee
injury, could return for the Cardinals (6-3) when they take on the
Aggies (5-8), who are in their first season under Menzies.
Pitino said Palacios "looked real good" during practice on
Thursday but will be a game-time decision.
"The thing that shocked me the most was how he get in there,"
Pitino said. "I thought psychologically it would take him some
time [but] he got in there and mixed it up right away."
The Cardinals, who snapped a two-game losing streak in a win
over Marshall on Tuesday, could use the depth and experience
Palacios' return would provide. The last remaining contributor
during Louisville's Final Four run in 2005 has been bothered by
injuries each of the last three seasons. Palacios averaged 8.9
points and 5.5 rebounds last year.
"It helps us because he can back up [Terrence Williams] and
Earl [Clark]," Pitino said. "He'd be a sixth man on the
basketball team and a valuable guy that comes off the bench and
gives you a spark."
It's a spark that Menzies got to know very well during his two
years with the Cardinals. His team has struggled against one of the
nation's most demanding schedules. The defending WAC champions have
already played Duke, Texas and West Virginia. The Aggies are coming
off a tough 83-69 loss to rival New Mexico on Wednesday.
"This team has more talent than the teams that have been here
so far," Pitino said. "They're picked to win the WAC and they're
a very good team, an NCAA team with most of the players back.
They've just played a very difficult schedule."
The Aggies are led by senior guard Justin Hawkins, who is
averaging 18.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 gives
opponents problems because of his length, and the Cardinals have
struggled to stop talented guards most of the season.
Pitino, however, is encouraged by how active the Cardinals have
been in the passing lanes. He said the team's ability to deflect
passes has been "off the charts." The Cardinals turned the
deflections into turnovers against Marshall, keying a 20-3 run in
the second half that pushed Pitino to his 500th career victory.
"We're getting healthy and improving," he said. "But the Big
East is going to be a rough and tumble league. ... It will be some
battle for the next few months."
A battle Pitino hopes the Cardinals can prepare for with the
help of Palacios.