Russ Smith Carries Louisville Into Final Four

Russ Smith has been having an up and down Sophomore season, but it seems everything is coming through for him in the 2012 NCAA tournament, coming up with his best game since January, scoring 19 points off the bench to lead Louisville into the Final Four with a 72-68 win over Florida.

The win, like in the previous round, was about defense. This time the zone didn’t work, as the Gators kept hitting threes. Pitino went back to man to man, resulting in the Gators hitting only 1-9 from the outside, enabling the Cardinals to go on a 18-3 run during the last 8 minutes, coming up with the win after Chane Behanan (17 points) made the go ahead basket. Russ Smith, who else, finished the game with a pair of free throws.

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For Rick Pitino, it’ll be his sixth visit to the Final Four, and his first with Louisville since 2005, losing to Illinois when it was the Cardinals’ last year in Conference USA. It’s been an up and down road for him and his team since the move to the Big East, with the Elite Eight proving to be an impassable barrier, until this year.

For Donovan, who played for Pitino, it was the second straight trip to the Elite Eight with the Gators, still trying to make his first Final Four since the national championship years of 2006 and 2007. All his starters finished in double digits, Erik Murphy and Bradley Beal finishing with 14 points each to lead the team. They played a good game in all, but spent their ammunition too early. There was nothing left to finish with.

Pitino, in the end, felt bad for Donovan, who was part of the Providence team that went to the Final Four 25 years ago – Tonight, it was very difficult because of the way the game ended, because they outplayed us for 32 minutes. And it really hurt inside. As much as I felt like celebrating, it really hurt because he did such a masterful job of coaching. Not in the end, when he couldn’t stop the landslide.

For Pitino and the Cardinals, the next game could be real special. Kentucky, a team he coached and led to the national title in 1996, the #1 team in the nation. Not to speak of the inner state rivalry that’ll be going on. A special game indeed.

We think they’re excellent. We think they’re great. I coached there. It’s great. Great tradition. But we want to be Louisville. We have a different mission. They have a different mission. But we both want to get to a Final Four and win a championship.

Kentucky need to get through Baylor first.