And 48 hours later another ‘Russ-diculous’ performance for Louisville guard Russ Smith in scoring 27 points in 32 minutes, the Louisville Cardinals advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 19th time in a resounding 82-56 victory over Colorado State Saturday night in Lexington.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino saw a “Russdiculous” performance in the Cardinals’ first two outings of the NCAA Tournament in Lexington. Courtesy Louisville Athletics
Smith was just coming off his 23-point effort in leading Louisville to an easy opening round massacre of North Carolina A&T. With the competition at a much higher level in the round of 32, Smith stepped up as he has all season. That’s much of the reason why Louisville coach Rick Pitino calls him “one of the top three players in the country.”
“You see him now and you really have a great appreciation for the way he plays,” said Pitino, “Just think of the conditioning of this young man. He picks up full court; he’s looking for a steal; off the ball and then he’s denying. Then, he’s running cuts, pick-and-rolls, and he is scoring. Do you know what kind of shape you have to be in to be able to play the way he and Peyton Siva do?”
Smith and Siva were once again unstoppable as Smith nailed four threes while going 9-of-10 from the line in 32 minutes. He was key midway through the first half when he scored seven points in a 14-7 Cardinals run that game them a 40-26 lead and separation from the Rams once and for all. Smith played 26 minutes on Thursday, so as he explored the Rams on both ends of the floor, it served to reason he would be ascending throughout the game.
“Well if Coach is not tired, we are not tired,” said Smith, “We get all our energy and fearlessness from Coach. And if we let him down, we feel like we are letting each other down.”
Smith and the “Russdiculous” mantra have gained lots of notoriety in Louisville as Pitino gave the name to one of his horses in honor of Smith and then the nickname hooked on to him. The popularity of the Brooklyn, NY, native has picked up so readily that with his stellar play at Rupp Arena, the Cardinal denizens have renamed it “Russ Arena,” a friendly poke at the rival Wildcats.
“I actually didn’t hear the chant and I didn’t know too much of it,” Smith said when asked about the fans chanting, Russ Arena, “I kind of lost track of it during the game, once the game started. I’m not going to act like nobody said anything. I was aware of it.”
Pitino marvels at the way Smith has grown and matured since he was a freshman. The coach talked about the days when Smith wouldn’t play hard on the defensive end of the floor, pass the ball, or generally understand the game. In the Pitino system, Smith and his coach have grown impeccably close on and off the floor.
“I can tell you, he knew all about Russ Arena,” mused Pitino, “He’s also gained humility. I’ve been proud of a lot fo guys at BU, Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville, but I don’t think I could be more proud of any young man.”
- Ken Cross
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