Louisville's run in the NCAA tournament this year has largely been attributed to its defense, but sophomore Russ Smith has proven to be pivotal off the bench with his scoring.
Smith, who averages just 11.6 points on 35 percent shooting this season, has come up big throughout March Madness for the Cardinals, giving them a much-needed boost offensively. He scored 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting in the Cardinals' harrowing 72-68 victory against Florida in the Elite Eight, hitting some huge shots down the stretch.
Smith said, via ESPN, "Pressure doesn't really bother me. I look at every game the same way."
Smith has been inconsistent this season, however. He has the capability of dropping 30 points, like he did in Louisville's regular-season matchup against Kentucky. In the same breath, he can go 1-of-7 from the floor like he did against Davidson in the Round of 64. His risky, freelance style of basketball can be both a weakness and a strength.
But Smith's performance against Florida was impressive. A natural shoot-first guard, Smith was pressed into the starting point guard spot in the final four minutes of regulation when leader Peyton Siva fouled out. He didn't disappoint.
Smith said, via ESPN:
It was definitely something that everyone kind of dreams of: starting guard is out or fouled out, there's four minutes left and you have to handle all the ball-handling duties. That's the perfect position. That's the position that you wouldn't give anything up for and I'm just really glad I got that opportunity.
There is no doubt that Louisville's defense will be the No. 1 key to the game for the Cardinals against explosive Kentucky in the Final Four, but Smith is right up there in terms of the impact he can have on the game. If he erupts like he did against the Wildcats on Dec. 31, who knows what can happen.
One thing's for sure: Smith is certainly going to have to be "Russ-diculous" for Louisville to top Kentucky on Saturday.
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