Louisville, KY (WDRB) - Junior guard Chris Jones is set to return to the court Thursday when 12th-ranked Louisville hosts 13th-ranked Cincinnati. Jones has been sidelined with an oblique injury he suffered January 12th in the win over SMU. Since then, freshman Terry Rozier has stepped up, leading to some talk around Cardinal Nation that maybe the team has been better without Jones.
Head coach Rick Pitino begs to differ.
"I can assure you, that's not even close to being the truth," says Pitino. "We need Chris Jones desperately to be a good basketball team. He's a big steal guy, he's an explosive scorer, he's a hard-working guy, so we need him to be a very effective basketball team."
In 16 games played so far this season, Jones is averaging 11.3 points per game (third on the team) and 2.9 assists per game (second on the team). He's tied with Russ Smith with 1.9 steals per game, tops on the team.
"He's just such a good asset to the team, just adding him makes us that much stronger," according to senior forward Luke Hancock.
Jones will most likely come off the bench Thursday against the Bearcats. Pitino says he usually brings players coming off an injury off the bench rather than starting them in their first game back. Either way, Pitino claims the starting lineup means little.
"Starting is so irrelevant to me personally as a coach, it really doesn't matter, but when guys are injured and coming off the injured list, we don't usually start them, "said Pitino.
Cincinnati and Louisville will battle for first place in the American Athletic Conference. Tip off is scheduled for 7pm Thursday night.