Louisville's Dieng motivated for more than UK

broberts@herald-leader.comDecember 28, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

LOUISVILLE — The will-he-or-won't-he discussion surrounding Louisville center Gorgui Dieng was settled earlier this week.

On Wednesday, Dieng was cleared to play in Saturday's game against Kentucky.

On Thursday, he went through his first full practice with the Cardinals since suffering a broken wrist against Missouri on Nov. 23.

And Friday, Coach Rick Pitino declared Dieng well enough to start against the Cats.

The Louisville big man answered several questions about his readiness to play — and the importance of the UK-U of L rivalry — before stopping to set the record straight.

"I just want to make this clear: I'm back, not because we're playing against Kentucky. I'm back because the doctor cleared me to play," Dieng said. "If the doctor said I could not play this game, I wouldn't have played.

"It's not (because) they have two bigs that they want me to play. It's not like that. I just get back, because it's a good time to be back."

The timing couldn't be worse for Kentucky.

The Cats are in need of a signature non-conference victory, and a healthy Dieng makes that an even tougher task.

The 6-foot-11 junior led the Big East in blocked shots last season and swatted 10 Kentucky attempts in two games against the Cats.

Had Dieng remained sidelined Saturday, UK's big-man tandem of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein could have taken advantage. U of L has been forced to use a makeshift rotation with otherwise-seldom-used Stephan Van Treese and Zach Price seeing increased minutes, and 6-8 freshman Montrezl Harrell shifting to the five position.

"We're excited to have Gorgui back," Pitino said. "Our passing gets better. Our communication skills on defense get a lot better. He looks good. He's in great shape."

Dieng said he "can do everything" with the left wrist that he could before the injury. He said he even fell on it a couple of times in practice Thursday, and popped back up feeling fine.

Though Dieng is obviously excited to be back on the court, there's an added significance to Saturday's game.

It will be the first time his parents get to see him play basketball.

Dieng's host family from his high school days at Huntington Prep (W.Va.) arranged for his parents to travel from Senegal, which he left three years ago to come to the United States.

He said his mother has only watched him on television, and his father isn't much of a basketball fan.

That made it tough for Dieng to explain the atmosphere of a typical Kentucky-Louisville game to his folks, who he said come from a town with a population roughly the same as what will inhabit the KFC Yum Center on Saturday.

"I told them, 'These two schools — they hate each other.' But the good thing is, they don't speak English."

In some situations, there's no need for a translator.

"I'm sure they're going to be shocked," he said.

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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