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Louisville’s Russ Smith returns for senior season
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However, Smith’s return provides a huge key in maintaining the Cardinals’ up-tempo pace on both ends. Defensively, he and graduating point guard Peyton Siva (school-record 254 career steals) helped their pressure defense succeed with timely thefts leading to transition baskets that often sparked big scoring runs. Smith averaged 2.1 steals this season.
After hearing of Smith’s return, Siva tweeted, “Welp… there goes my steals record.”
The tournament showed Smith’s offensive value. Besides finishing off transition plays with his quickness and agility, Smith consistently contributed big perimeter shots for the Cardinals. His 560 shots for 748 points accounted for 24.3 percent of Louisville’s attempts and 25 percent of the offense, respectively.
Though Smith’s shot selection and decision-making earned him the nickname “Russdiculous” from Pitino, both made clear during a 45-minute news conference how much they need each other. The coach obviously noted that Louisville wouldn’t be champions without Smith, while the guard deferred to Pitino in his decision-making and the announcement.
Along with trying to help Louisville become the NCAA’s first repeat champion since Florida won consecutive titles in 2006 and 2007, Smith said becoming the first in his family to graduate ranked up there.
“I realized how much I loved playing with my teammates and how much fun it is to win,” Smith said, “and this is part of the purpose of being a national champion. Obviously, I wasn’t a clear cut first-round pick, so coming back was mainly because of coach, my teammates, the Louisville campus, the community, graduating…
“With the group we got coming back, I want to go out as a winner as well as get my degree.”
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