Smith leads Cardinals over UMKC
Russ Smith doesn’t approach games expecting big numbers. The Louisville junior guard knows if he puts in the effort, the statistics will take care of themselves.
Smith happily learned that on Saturday, scoring a career-high 31 points as No. 5 Louisville cruised past Missouri-Kansas City 99-47.
Smith was 12 of 18 from the field and 3 of 5 from 3-point range in surpassing his previous high of 30 last December against Kentucky. He led Louisville (8-1) in scoring for the sixth time in nine games.
”You just never know,” said Smith, who also had seven rebounds, five assists and five steals. ”It’s just how the ball is falling, you just never know. You just go out there and try to make the right basketball decisions. If you make the right basketball decisions, you’ll be in the right spot to get a triple-double, and that’s how the better players do it.
”I think I can if I’m in the right spots.”
Nothing about Smith’s performance surprised the Cardinals. They’ve seen enough of their teammate to know a scoring outbreak is possible any time he touches the ball.
Even in games in which Smith’s shooting touch is off — earning him the nickname ”Russ-diculous” from Louisville coach Rick Pitino because of his sometimes streaky play and quirky personality — he will keep trying until he finds a rhythm. Smith had no such issues on Saturday, and the Cardinals had no problem going along for the ride.
”Russ is going to be Russ,” sophomore forward Wayne Blackshear said. ”He’s just going to score, regardless of what team we’re playing. For everybody else, we just play our roles and do what we do best. Whoever’s night it is, it’s just their night and that’s our go-to-guy.”
Luke Hancock added 15 points and six rebounds, and Montrezl Harrell a career-high 14 points with seven rebounds for the Cardinals, who shot 56 percent in winning their third in a row. All but two players scored for Louisville, which posted its highest point total this season.
Louisville’s defense stifled Missouri-Kansas City (4-5). Besides forcing 24 turnovers leading to 35 points, the Cardinals held the Kangaroos to 27 percent shooting, including four of 27 in the second half.
Louisville also outrebounded UMKC 47-33.
”They do different things,” UMKC coach Matt Brown said of Louisville’s defense. ”Sometimes it’s man-to-man, sometimes it’s zone, sometimes there is a guy on the ball, and sometimes there is a guy off the ball. They give you so many different looks.”
Nelson Kirksey and Trinity Hall led the Kangaroos with nine points each.
The Cardinals were coming off Tuesday’s 80-38 rout at the College of Charleston, a game in which they forced 27 turnovers and collected 18 steals while making just seven mistakes.
Pitino probably would have been fine with a close win against a Cougars team that went 19-12 last season. But he was especially happy with the lopsided outcome in his club’s first true road game this season.
The coach’s wish coming into this game was getting the same kind of focus at home from his team, understandable considering the Cardinals overcame a slow start to beat Illinois State 69-66 a week ago.
Louisville wasted no time making Pitino’s wish come true.
Smith quickly helped the Cardinals pick up where they left off on Tuesday, scoring his team’s first eight points and 14 of their first 26. He added a couple of assists and steals as Louisville led by 17 after eight minutes.
”We just had to bring the same mentality we had against Charleston,” said Cardinals center Zach Price, who had five points and three rebounds. ”That’s basically to get better every game as we approach the Big East (conference schedule). Playing better at home was one of Coach’s main teaching points, for us to be more calm at home like we’ve been on the road.”
Smith set the stage for solid shooting in the first half by the Cardinals, who made 17 of their first 24 from the field and 20 of 33 (61 percent). Louisville’s effort included 4 of 7 from behind the arc.
Louisville’s defense played a big role in building the big lead as well. Entering the game ranked eighth in turnover margin (8.9), the Cardinals harassed the Kangaroos into 10 in the first 10 minutes, and 16 by halftime.
That pressure led to a lot of transition baskets and 25 points for Louisville, which led 53-28 at halftime. One of the Cardinals’ best breaks came late in the first half as Ware stole a pass near the right baseline and fed the ball to Smith, who lobbed a nice pass to Hancock for a layup.
”I think Russ Smith played a fantastic game,” Pitino said. ”He keeps getting better better and better. He creates easy buckets for you off his defense. He’s shooting the ball extremely well.”