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Cards need to shuffle backcourt without Kevin Ware

Louisville will have a new backcourt rotation for the Final Four without Kevin Ware in the lineup.

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The sophomore guard, who was a regular substitution for starters Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, broke his right leg in Sunday's 85-63 victory over Duke in the Midwest Regional final.

Now Louisville coach Rick Pitino is faced with tweaking his rotation to fill the void left by Ware's absence.

Pitino is mulling shifting small forwards Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock to the backcourt in some defensive situations for Saturday's national semifinal against Wichita State at the Georgia Dome. Even junior walk-on Tim Henderson, usually a late-game substitute for Louisville (33-5), could see expanded minutes as the Cardinals try to maintain a nine-deep rotation.

``Kevin really, really hurts our basketball team not being there because we were short on backcourt substitutions,'' Pitino said during a teleconference of Final Four coaches.

``As you all watched, Kevin has great speed and length. He was playing the best basketball. Now, you don't have any backcourt rotations. You only have two backcourt players, Russ and Peyton. You can't play them all those minutes.''

At the same time, Smith and Siva are used to spending a lot of time on the court during the postseason.

Both averaged at least 31 minutes during the Big East tournament, and Smith is averaging 31.3 during NCAA play, including 34 on Sunday. Siva played 33 against Duke and averaging 27.5 minutes through four tournament games.

The 6-foot-2 Ware was important in providing both a breather and had become a significant contributor toward the end of the regular season. He scored a career-high 11 points in Friday's 77-69 win over Oregon and had five assists, two rebounds and two steals in the previous tournament win against Colorado State.

Ware returned to campus Tuesday afternoon after two days in an Indianapolis hospital following surgery to repair compound fractures of the tibia. Pitino hopes Ware can travel with the team to Atlanta, but his absence on-court will result in Blackshear and Hancock having to contribute to both Louisville's front- and backcourt attacks.

Listed as a guard/forward, the 6-foot-6 Hancock provides perimeter scoring, rebounding and keen anticipation skills that have helped Louisville's pressure defense. Blackshear's quickness allows the Cardinals to keep pressure on opponents, as well - and he can also shoot from beyond the arc.

``We're just going to have to mix up,'' Pitino said. ``We have a lot of front-court depth, but we don't have a lot of back-court depth. That's pretty much it.''

Henderson's averaging only 3.5 minutes this season, most of which have come at the end of many of Louisville's lopsided victories. But after coming in and sealing the Cardinals' win over the Blue Devils with a 3-pointer, Pitino hinted that the junior walk-on might be called on to take a few more shots against the Shockers.

No matter who is on the court for Louisville, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expects the same fast-paced approach from the Cardinals, which puts his own guards on notice.

``That's going to be a big focal point for us, dealing with the pressure,'' Marshall said. ``Obviously, we have to guard them as well on the other end.

``It's going to be a great challenge for our guards, Malcolm Armstead, the senior, and Fred Van Vleet, the freshman. There's other guys that are going to have to handle the ball effectively that aren't your primary ball handler.''

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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