An ill Russ Smith steals the show for Cards

Russ Smith

INDIANAPOLIS - Russ Smith said he was only about 70 percent because of an illness but still had one of the best games of his career. The junior guard from Brooklyn scored 31 points on 9 of 16 from the field and 12 of 14 free throws to lift the Cardinals to a 77-69 over Oregon in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Russ Smith has been under the weather for a few days.

The University of Louisville junior guard has a head cold and according to U of L coach Rick Pitino, "he's infected our entire team with a ridiculous cold."

But Smith sure didn't play sick.

In between coughs and blowing his nose on the sidelines, Smith sliced up the Oregon defense for 31 points to help the Cardinals beat the Ducks 77-69 in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"There's people more terribly sick than me. But I was pretty sick to where it affected my conditioning to a point."

Smith hit 9 of 16 from the field, including 1 of 4 three-pointers, and was 12 of 14 from the free-throw line. He added three assists and three steals.

Smith said he was just 70 percent, noting "I was coughing stuff up and gasping for air."

"He just responds," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "He had to play way too many minutes because he was coughing and hacking. We just had to get our guys through it. The only problem is on every time out Russ was hacking in our faces."

Smith had to play even more minutes – 34 – than Pitino wanted to play him because Peyton Siva picked up two early fouls in the first half. Siva only played 19 minutes with Smith and Kevin Ware teaming up most of the time in the backcourt.

"My sickness is strong, and I'm able to pass it to everybody," Smith said with a smile, noting he's been sick for a couple of days.

Pitino said six players were a bit under the weather and sophomore Chane Behanan said "I did have it first," after the Big East Tournament.

"I think (Russ) is lying, he's trying to get some more attention," sophomore forward Chane Behanan said laughing. "I'm just glad it's out of me."

Smith said he would be fine for Sunday's Elite Eight game where the Cardinals will be trying for a 14th straight win and second trip in a row to the Final Four.

"I'll be good," he said with a smile.

In the first three NCAA Tournament games, Smith has been more than good. He's scored 81 points in three games and tied his career high with the 31.

The 31 points also tied for the fifth most in an NCAA Tournament game by a U of L player. Junior Bridgeman has the record with 36 in 1975.

"He was terrific," Pitino said. "I have been coaching in the pros for eight years and why he's not like in the lottery is mindboggling to me. His game transcends to the pros, getting to the line. The pro game is not as physical as the college game.

"I'm baffled. On top of that, he turns around and guards non-stop. I don't know what they are thinking. Yes he was pretty erratic as a freshman and took some wild shots. But he carried us to a Final Four last year.

Pitino said he was glad the NBA scouts were "missing the boat" on Smith because "I'll have him for another year."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Smith is always good for the Quote of the Day. And this time it was after he drove down the lane in the second half, was fouled and tried to dunk the ball.

"I said Russ why would you try to dunk that ball, you were out of air?" Pitino said. "He said, "Pretty special, wasn't it coach'?"

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