Davis and Dieng know their way around the block

mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 30, 2012 

  • Blocks comparisonAnthony Davis: 175UK team: 326Gorgui Dieng: 124U of L team: 189

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisville-Kentucky rivalry is the plot within the plot that is the NCAA Final Four.

That's not the only sub-plot, though.

Take, for example, the clash between the big fellas — Louisville's 6-foot-11 Gorgui Dieng and Kentucky's 6-10 Anthony Davis.

One is an African, one is American.

Dieng (his name is pronounced GOR-gee Jeng), the seventh of eight children, is from Kebemer, Senegal.

"He's a great shot-blocker," Davis said. "Great timing. Moves his feet quick."

Dieng finished first in the Big East Conference and is eighth in the NCAA with 3.2 blocks a game. His 124 blocks are a U of L single-season record.

"I could care less about breaking that record," Dieng said after Friday's practice in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. "I care more about winning tomorrow, and the next game on Monday."

Davis, who has a twin sister and an older sister, is from Chicago.

He led the Southeastern Conference and is second in the NCAA with 4.6 blocks a game. His 175 swats are more than double the previous UK season record, and fifth on the career chart. He is within seven of the NCAA freshman record.

"I think that Anthony Davis is one of the best shot-blockers we've ever seen," said Richard Pitino, son of and assistant to U of L Coach Rick Pitino. "Gorgui's not quite as advanced as he is. He's a little longer — his arms are a little longer than Gorgui's. But Gorgui's become a very good shot-blocker in his own right."

Here, the prolific shot-blockers have been barraged by questions about their matchup Saturday.

"It's Louisville against Kentucky," Dieng said. "So we're going to play as a team and try to get everybody playing at every position. It's not like (it's about) me or Anthony."

A sophomore, Dieng averages 9.2 points and 9.0 rebounds, shooting 53.4 percent from the field.

"I put it like this: I would say as of right now, Anthony Davis, he should be worried about Gorgui Dieng, really," U of L guard Chris Smith said. "For us as a team, we're going to try to stop (Davis) cold, really, not feed into his shot-blocking. We've got to get him in foul trouble, and that will pretty much give us the game."

In Senegal, Dieng discovered basketball as a 5-year-old. He went on to high school at the SEEDS (Sports for Education and Economic Development) Academy, where students are prepared for further studies in the United States.

In Dieng's case, that meant Huntington, W.Va., where he caught Rick Pitino's eye.

"He's not like most kids I've seen from Africa," Pitino said. "He has a great finesse game.

"When I first met Gorgui it was in December and he spoke very little English, but come February, he spoke really good English."

Pitino, struggling to learn Spanish when he was considering coaching the Puerto Rican national team, "marveled" at Dieng's language skills. Dieng speaks English, French, Italian, Spanish and his native Wolof.

As for his shot-blocking ability, Dieng attributes that to timing and added strength.

He weighed 197 pounds when he came to U of L. Now, he's listed at 235.

"People are going to come challenge me, so I can block the shot," he said. "If I'm strong enough, I can take the heat and block the shot."

U of L backup guard Elisha Justice, who as Mr. Basketball led Shelby Valley to the 2010 state high school title, sees similarities in Dieng and Davis.

"They're both really good about using their length to block shots," Justice said. "A lot of times, they'll be blocking shots off the ball — another forward will be just walling up and Gorgui or Anthony Davis, either one, just come over from across the lane and block his shot."

UK also has a home-grown reserve guard, West Jessamine graduate Jarrod Polson.

"Probably two of the best shot-blockers in the nation," Polson said of Davis and Dieng. "Obviously, I've seen more of Anthony's blocking, and it's really hard to even get a shot off against him when you're in the paint.

"At the same time, it's going to be hard for us to go against Gorgui, too. So we're going to try to pump fake and do stuff like that to get him out of the game, sort of."

Davis, a consensus All-American and the national Player of the Year, averages 14.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and shoots 63.3 percent from the field.

His uncanny ability to block shots has been linked to his rapid growth spurt.

As a freshman at Perspectives Charter High School, he stood 6-2. As a junior, he was 6-5. Then 6-7. Now 6-10.

"His timing" is what makes Davis special, according to U of L's Russ Smith. "Because he was a guard himself. So you'll go in there and try to do these little guard tricks like stop-and-go or pump fake or a little spin move — just all the guard tricks — and he knows what you're going to do because he was a guard himself."

Come Saturday night, like it or not, either Davis or Dieng will be king of the block.

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