Smith, Dieng giving No. 4 Louisville needed boost

Rick Pitino says No. 4 Louisville isn’t playing good

basketball.

The Cardinals have had to rally to win in their last three

games, most recently against Western Kentucky.

But if everyone on Pitino’s squad was performing like sophomores

Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith, the coach’s outlook might be more

positive heading into a stretch that includes a Big East Conference

opener against No. 16 Georgetown and a rivalry game against

third-ranked Kentucky.

Dieng has five straight double-doubles, and Smith’s reached

double figures in each of Louisville’s last four games to position

the Cardinals (12-0) within a game of matching their best start in

program history.

”He does things that I haven’t seen done before,” Pitino said

of Smith, a Brooklyn, N.Y., shooting guard limited by foot and knee

injuries last season. ”I think because where Russ grew up, you can

understand why he doesn’t have much to fear. He was very happy and

relieved just to get home at the end of the night. A basketball

game is not going to make him nervous.”

Add in Dieng, the 6-foot-11 center Pitino called ”a one-man

wrecking crew inside,” and the Cardinals appear poised to best

three Louisville teams from the 1960s and 1970s that each started

13-0.

The duo can’t do it alone, as Pitino on Friday mentioned Peyton

Siva – he has more turnovers than points in Louisville’s last two

games – among those who need to improve.

After a close call against the Hilltoppers, Siva said, ”Russ

Smith saved us again.”

Smith scored 23 points off the bench in a 70-60 win over Western

Kentucky on Friday night, with seven of those points coming during

a 14-0 run in the second half that pushed Louisville to the lead

for good. The performance included four turnovers, indicative of

Smith’s reckless style, but he finished a point shy of his career

high reached Dec. 17 against Memphis.

”I guess it’s just good luck when I come in,” Smith said. ”If

when I come in the game is stagnant, then I try to get a big steal.

Get a steal, layup, make a 3-pointer and change the game. I try to

do whatever I can to help the team.”

Smith (10.5 points per game) and Dieng (10.8 points, 10.2

rebounds per game) were also instrumental in last Tuesday’s

comeback win over the College of Charleston, adding double figure

games to Kyle Kuric’s team-high 17 points.

”Gorgui and Russ played like men possessed,” Pitino said after

the game.

It’s somewhat of a surprise that both Dieng and Smith are

playing for Louisville at all with Smith getting little playing

time his first year and Dieng needing to win an appeal with the

NCAA to become eligible following his senior year at Huntington

Prep in West Virginia.

Now Pitino has Smith, who he said ”has an incredible knack for

getting his shot off,” and Dieng, who’s ”20 pounds from being a

great player.”

Dieng said he came out of high school at less than 200 pounds.

He’s currently listed at 235 while stressing skills over strength

in the post.

”I guarantee you that any big man I face . I’m quicker than

them,” Dieng said, ”and I’m faster than them.”

Dieng plans to earn a degree from Louisville (his major remains

undecided) before considering other options, including playing

professionally. Basketball is still fairly new to the Kebemer,

Senegal, native.

”I have my mind where I am right now. I’m just focusing on

Louisville,” he said. ”I’m not hurrying for anything. My parents

aren’t asking me for anything. They’ve been blessed. I love my

school. I love basketball. I’ll just take my time.

”This is a good opportunity to learn, and I’ve got good people

around me. I feel lucky that I’m not trying to rush anything,

taking my time, learning.”