Cardinals trying to get healthy for Duke game
On Saturday, he couldn't catch a break.
Less than 24 hours after Smith scored a career-high 31 points to send the Cardinals into Sunday's Midwest Regional final against Duke, he had to endure the friendly jabs from his own locker room.
''I think the game last night helped us out a lot by Oregon running so much it ran it all out of us,'' guard Peyton Siva said. ''We've been taking antibiotics and I think everybody is getting their energy back and everybody's become more upbeat. And Russ stopped coughing on everybody, so I think we're doing better.''
That's good news for Smith and the Cardinals, who have been contending with a virus that has been spreading as they prepare to face second-seeded Duke (30-5). The winner advances to the Final Four in Atlanta, and Louisville will need another healthy performance from Smith if it's going to reach a second straight Final Four.
Some teammates have teased Smith about being the instigator of this nasty cold. Actually, sophomore forward Chane Bahaman took the blame for that Friday night, claiming he was the first to start feeling ill between the end of the Big East tournament and the start of the NCAA tourney.
Fortunately for the Cardinals (32-5), it hasn't slowed them down and Smith hasn't shown any demonstrable ill effects. Louisville beat North Carolina A&T 79-48 in the second round, Colorado State 82-56 in the third round and surprising Oregon 77-69 on in the regional semis.
But every time Smith tried to take a break Friday night - during timeouts, on the bench and even the postgame interviews - the cough returned. He wound up being taken back to the locker room on a golf cart with his shirt covering his face. Smith still managed to go 9 of 16 from the field and 12 of 14 from the free-throw line with two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block.
Apparently, his coach thought the ailing Smith could have played better.
''Our guys, I think, we're well-rested because we didn't play a stitch of defense last night, so we're well-rested,'' Rick Pitino said before adding, ''especially Russ.''
Pitino then glanced down the table toward Smith, who stared down and started shaking his head in silence.
The best remedy for ailing Cardinals might be exactly what they're getting - a little extra rest.
By playing the first of Friday's two regional semifinals, the Cardinals were able to sleep in before taking the court for a midday workout. And team doctors have been treating the Cardinals with various medications though even Smith says he's not quite himself yet.
''I'm definitely not 100 percent from a conditioning standpoint,'' he said. ''This cold is definitely wearing me down a little bit.''
But if the Cardinals are going to prevent Mike Krzyzewski's bid to tie John Wooden's career record with a 12th Final Four appearance, they'll need Smith to play be his best.
And that's no joke.
''We feel a lot a lot better,'' Siva said. ''You can just tell people's energy is coming back. It's still slow, but it's getting there.''