Memphis (5-3) at (24) Louisville (9-0)

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By ALAN FERGUSON, STATS Writer Friday, Dec 16, 2011 Tipoff: 4:00 pm EST Sat Dec 17, 2011

Thriving despite a number of injuries, Louisville might get some help just in time for a potentially difficult stretch of games.

Freshman guard Kevin Ware could make his debut for the No. 4 Cardinals during Saturday’s home game against a formerly ranked Memphis team.

Seven players have missed at least one game this season for Louisville, with guard Mike Marra and forward Stephan Van Treese out indefinitely due to knee injuries.

Freshman Wayne Blackshear (shoulder) and sophomore Elisha Justice (broken nose) are expected to return in the coming weeks, while Rakeem Buckles (knee) and Russ Smith (neck) might be back on the floor Saturday.

“It’s been musical chairs,” coach Rick Pitino said. “Our players are used to it.”

Ware started practicing with the team this week after being declared ineligible for the fall semester for failing to meet the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements. Pitino said he might serve as a backup to point guard Peyton Siva on Saturday.

“He’s in much better physical shape than we expected,” Pitino said of Ware, a first-team all-state pick from Georgia who was considered a top 100 prospect.

Despite the numerous absences, the Cardinals (9-0) are off to their best start since beginning 10-0 in 1996-97. They’ve endured by allowing 52.7 points per game on 34.6 percent shooting - best in the Big East in both categories.

It might be difficult to maintain that kind of defensive prowess against Memphis (5-3), which averages 81.1 points to lead Conference USA. The Tigers’ three losses have all been to teams which are currently ranked, and Pitino says they’re “as athletic as any team in the country.”

This game kicks off a tough portion of the schedule for the Cardinals, winners of 17 straight home games. They have a matchup Tuesday with a Charleston team which is 8-1, play their Big East opener against No. 16 Georgetown on Dec. 28 and visit third-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 31.

First, the Cardinals face a former conference rival that’s struggled since climbing to No. 8 in the rankings in late November.

Memphis fell out of the Top 25 this week after Sunday’s 76-72 loss to Murray State.

“That was not a good game,” coach Josh Pastner said. “We had some chances, so I’m proud of the guys for giving effort in a lot of areas. In the end, we take a loss.”

Sophomore Will Barton scored 27 points for a second consecutive game. The reigning Conference USA player of the week, averaging 10.7 rebounds and shooting 65.2 percent in three games this month, is scoring a league-best 20.4 points per game.

No Louisville player averages more than 13 points, but five are at 9.2 or better.

Kyle Kuric scores a team-leading 12.9 per game and had a season-high 18 in an 80-58 win over Fairleigh Dickinson last Saturday. Siva had a season-best 16 points while Gorgui Dieng recorded his second straight double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

The Tigers could get some help in the frontcourt with junior forward Ferrakohn Hall, a Memphis native who played his first two seasons at Seton Hall, now eligible to play after sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules.

Memphis is facing Louisville for the first time since a 75-74 defeat in the 2005 C-USA title game. The Cardinals, who have faced only Cincinnati more times in their history, lead the series 51-34.

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