LOUISVILLE — Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack was released from quarantine and returned to practice Tuesday and is expected to coach his team against Syracuse tonight, but the Cardinals will be without two scholarship players and a walk-on against the Orange (12-6, 6-5 ACC) because of COVID protocols.

Assistant coach Dino Gaudio, filling in for Mack on Monday’s ACC Zoom call, declined to name the players who will miss tonight’s game at the KFC Yum Center. U of L normally discloses the names of any players who are unavailable about one hour before tipoff.

Mack tested positive for the coronavirus after the team returned from its postponed game in Syracuse on Feb. 3. Due to COVID protocols, the Cards missed nine days of practice before returning to workouts Friday. They also practiced Saturday and Sunday, and were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday sessions.

Gaudio said Mack was feeling well and has been in frequent communication with him and the other assistants.

“He might be feeling too well, because he’s telling us he’s watching practice at home and I think it’s just grating on him that he can’t be here” Gaudio said. “We’re all looking forward to having him back.”

Gaudio said the Cards have had good practices since they returned while doing extra running and shooting, including running “a bunch” of sprints from end line to end line.

“We told them, ‘this isn’t punishment, this is trying to get us back into basketball and playing shape,” Gaudio said. “It’s a huge challenge for the guys, physically trying to get them back in shape. I think the five-day preparation heading into Syracuse bodes well for us. I think we’ll be ready to go and I feel good about where we are in terms of our preparation as far as conditioning. I’m looking forward — and I know they are — to playing again.”

Louisville (11-4, 6-3) hasn’t played since defeating Georgia Tech 74-58 on Feb. 1 and has had a total of six games postponed, only one of which — Georgia Tech — has been made up. The Syracuse game was originally scheduled for Feb. 3 in the Carrier Dome and the Cards have also missed home games against NC State, Boston College and Pittsburgh, along with road games at Virginia and Virginia Tech. Of those five, only the game against the Hokies has been rescheduled, for March 3 in Blacksburg, Va.

Asked if he is confident that the Syracuse game will actually be played Wednesday, Gaudio said:

”Anything could change in 48 hours, but from our end I think we’re fine. “We tested Friday and Saturday; we couldn’t test on Sunday because the lab wasn’t open. We tested again this morning and except for the earlier three, we’ve had all negatives. So I think we’re in a good place and hopefully Syracuse is as well. Right now we’re anticipating that we’re playing the game.”

Gaudio noted that part of the challenge in coming off such a long break is making sure the players have the right mindset.

”It’s a little psychological game with the players,” he said. “We’ve told them to never underestimate fresh legs and fresh minds. We said, ‘You guys have had a chance to get your legs back, you’ve been chomping at the bit to play, you’re hungry. You never get this opportunity in February, so let’s take advantage of it. We should be excited to play.’ And I think they will.”

The Cards are 11-4 overall and 6-3 in the ACC, which puts them in fourth place, two games behind Virginia Tech (8-3) and 1.5 games ahead of Clemson and North Carolina, both 7-5. Virginia leads the league with an 11-1 record, while Florida State is second at 7-2. UofL is scheduled to face the Tar Heels on Saturday in Chapel Hill.

Malik Williams nearing return

Gaudio said center Malik Williams is “on the horizon” of returning to the court after missing the entire season with a broken bone in his foot that required surgery to repair. After a week of doing things on his own, the 6-foot-11 senior participated with the team in practice for the first time Sunday on a limited basis.

”Yesterday he actually did shooting drills and five-on-none, which is when we’re dummying our offense going against no defense, just so he knows the plays. He did one live drill yesterday. The medical staff says his foot has healed, knock on wood, and he feels pretty good. But you’ve got to remember, this is a young man who hasn’t played in a year. So I think before he comes back and plays he has to do a little more in practice.

”When Fred says he’s ready to go in practice, we’ll probably do more scrimmaging to get him his wind and get him in a little bit of flow, how he’s feeling and get the game come back to him a little bit better. He has to get in basketball shape. Mentally he has to overcome the injury, and the mental part is probably more difficult than the physical part. We’re really encouraged with where he is, how he’s progressing, and probably as we go through this week he’ll be able to do more and more in practice. He’s on the horizon of coming back.”

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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