From Russ Arena to Sweet 16 & Nap Town

ColoState-Rise-to-the-OccasionJason Harper and his sons, Dustin and Robert, were rewarded for their high expectations during UofL’s 82-56 win over Colorado State, sending the Cardinals into the NCAA’s Sweet 16 against Oregon.

Russ Smith stampedes Rams with 27 points

The University of Louisville basketball program has had a lot of great seasons over the years and this one is starting to feel like one of those very special seasons, starting the journey with two overwhelming wins at Rupp Arena in Lexington. What a way to get started.

Russ Smith would turn on the ignition switch 25 seconds into the game with a 21-foot three-pointer on his way to an awesome 27-point performance, second only to the 30 points on the same floor against the University of Kentucky a year ago.

“Russ Arena,Red-Out” “Russ Arena,” “Russ Arena,” the chants beginning with about five minute remaining in the game, rising to a crescendo, sending shock waves across the Bluegrass State.

Russ Arena, indeed. Whenever Louisville needed a shot, there was Smith charging toward the basket, knowing he was going to score or get fouled, worked almost every time, almost at will. He would hit seven of 15 shots from the field, including four of seven three-point attempts, and nine of 10 shots from the free throw line. Taking charge, squeezing the maximum out of each of his 32 minutes.

“I just play hard no matter what venue I’m at, and some venues you just get lucky and shots go in, but I’m not — I won’t give the credit to Rupp Arena,” he said after the game. “I work really hard. Lot of the games here that I did play here were big games, you know, we had Kentucky here awhile ago, that was a big game, the first round the opener of the NCAA Tournament, and now this game. And for big games, I like to really prepare myself and try and have a good game.”

”Just give him the ball. It’s as simple as that,” Peyton Siva said of his running mate. ”He’s a scoring machine. He makes my job a lot easier. I just have to feed him the ball, get my assists up and get back on defense.”

And what a defensive effort it was, challenging every shot, every pass, every dribble and every rebound. Louisville would turn ColoState-HappyColorado State over 20 times, get 11 steals and out rebound a rebounding machine 29-24.  Never letting up, never getting tired, recharging themselves with all those steals and deflections. The more they get, the more relentless they become.

“Well, if Coach is not tired, then we can’t be tired,” said Smith. “We get all our energy and fearlessness from Coach. He drives us every day, and, you know, we let him down, we feel like we’re letting all of us down, each other, the whole Louisville, our staff and trainers. We just go out there, play with tremendous effort and that will come from our coach.”

At one point, in fact, Pitino appeared to following his offense down the floor, catching himself at the mid-court stripe. Pointing here, pointing there, playing defense his hands high in the air at times.

Colorado State would hit 55% of its shots in the first half but would go to the dressing room down by 14 points. The Rams somehow managed to look impressive while they were being herded to the out pastures, never losing their composure. The Cardinals just had the better motor, pushing the pedal through the floor board.

“Our guys were magnificent tonight. Wayne Blackshear had by far one of his best defensive games,” said Rick Pitino.  “And Russ, what can I say? I said to the young lady outside who is doing the game, I said Coach Curran (Russ’s late high school coach) is smiling right now. He’s so proud of Russ Smith. He’s gone from a very good scorer to a great basketball player at both ends of the floor, and I’m not sure I would ever thought when I recruited him I could say that.”

Ron Guthals and his grandson Byron were having a ball on Row FF in the rafters.
Ron Guthals and his grandson Byron were having a ball on Row FF in the rafters.

Montrezl Harrell taking his inspiration from Russ, no doubt. contributed 11 points, tying Blackshear for rebounding honors with four apiece. Gorgui Dieng, believe it or not, was six for six from the field, collecting 12 points.

The journey continues for Russ and company taking their show to Indianapolis Friday for a showdown  against the impressive Oregon Ducks, hoping to blast their quackers out of the water.

David @CardVader82
David @CardVader82

Author: Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, as well as a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

One thought on “From Russ Arena to Sweet 16 & Nap Town”

  1. Relentless effort. We need it each game remaining too.

    I am waiting for that night when everyone has a good night at once, we can clear the bench early when that happens.

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