Palacios to be game-time decision vs. New Mexico State

Updated: December 21, 2007, 6:57 PM ET
Associated Press

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 Classic.

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.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press