LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The pregame introductions for the Louisville basketball team is a lavish affair. The lights go down, the music comes up and the Cardinals bound onto the floor with the exuberance of a 4-year-old on Christmas morning.
Those days, however, are over.
After watching his injury-riddled team limp to consecutive losses to Dayton and Purdue -- defeats coach Rick Pitino partially blames on the lack of focus on the team concept -- there will be no hoopla before the Cardinals (5-3) host Marshall (5-2) on Tuesday night.
"We're just totally trying to focus everything we do on the word 'team' because we have so many guys consumed with how they're playing that they ultimately strike out because of it," Pitino said. "It's a small message, but the only way this team can be good is to understand the values of team and not about how they're playing."
Whether collectively or individually, nothing much has gone right for the Cardinals recently.
The loss to Purdue knocked Louisville out of the Top 25 for the first time this year, and injuries to David Padgett and Juan Palacios combined with the soap opera surrounding forward Derrick Caracter has left the team Pitino called the "deepest" he's had at Louisville depleted and unsure of itself.
Caracter, who was suspended for the Purdue game for a violation of team rules, should return against the Thundering Herd. Pitino said Caracter -- who needs to make weight in order to play -- likely won't start but credited Caracter for getting himself together following the suspension.
Pitino said he didn't give the oft-troubled Caracter an ultimatum following the suspension, but pointed out that Caracter was only hurting himself and his teammates by getting thrown into his coach's doghouse.
"All we can do is teach him that he's letting down the team and letting himself down, and I don't think he wants any more of that," Pitino said.
Pitino argued that because Caracter is unlikely to return to the Cardinals next year, he's "taking money out of his pocket" by running afoul of Pitino's ground rules.
"What he did to us could have tremendous consequences down the road, and what I told him was, 'There's nothing you can do about it,"' Pitino said. "'The only thing you can do is help us win games in the future that maybe we shouldn't have won."'
The game is the start of a three-week homestand for the Cardinals, one in which they hope to develop the kind of cohesion that carried them to the NCAA tournament last year.
Louisville stumbled in December a year ago, only to flourish once Big East play began. Pitino hopes the Cardinals don't have to wait so long this time around.
"I think if you played back some of my press conferences (from last year), I'd be saying the same things," he said.
If anything, the Cardinals may finally be getting healthy. Palacios, out since the second day of practice with a knee injury, could return for Saturday's game against New Mexico State. Padgett, who fractured his right knee in a win over Jackson State on Nov. 18, will have the knee re-examined this week and could be practicing by early January.
"He makes our offense go and click and makes everybody shoot a better percentage, and his passing skills are maybe his best quality," Pitino said. "We're in the same situation we were in last year, except that the Big East is much tougher this year. We've had a few slip-ups now for one reason or another, and you can't use injuries as the cause of it. It has something to do with it, but we can't slip up anymore."
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