Smith making his 'point'

Louisville sophomore Russ Smith is developing into a reliable backcourt contributor for the sixth-ranked Cardinals.

Rick Pitino is frustrated by Louisville's continual injury problems.

Starting point guard Peyton Siva has missed considerable practice time and two games because of a concussion and sprained ankle.

Reserve point guard Elijah Justice missed Monday's 79-66 win over Long Beach State after breaking his nose in practice.

If there has been a silver lining to Louisville's maddening injury parade early this season, it's the emergence of sophomore Russ Smith.

Smith came to Louisville as a high scoring point guard from New York's Archbishop Molloy who averaged 30 points per game as a senior. Slowed by an assortment of injuries as a freshman, including a broken foot, Smith played in only 17 games. When he did play, Smith's decision-making with the ball limited him to spot duty behind Siva and Justice.

So Pitino moved the 6'0 Smith to shooting guard during the off-season to better utilize his scoring ability. Smith led Louisville in scoring in the Bahamas, and appeared ready to provide depth at shooting guard this season.


But injuries to Siva has altered Pitino's plan for Smith, who has been playing significant minutes at point guard the past three games.

Though he struggled against Butler with four turnovers and no assists in his first extensive action at the point this season, Smith made 3 of 6 field goals to finish with nine points and two steals to help the Cardinals to a key road win over the Bulldogs.

Smith scored nine points in Louisville's win over Arkansas State last week, but more importantly committed just one turnover in 21 minutes.

Against Ohio, Smith played 18 minutes against the Bobcats in Siva's return and made three assists with no turnovers. He also had seven points, two rebounds and a steal.

Smith played perhaps his best game in Louisville's win over Long Beach State. With Siva slowed by foul trouble, Smith responded with a career-high 11 points on 5 of 11 shooting. Smith also made a career-best three assists and two steals with just one turnover in 27 minutes.

"He does a good job, but emotionally he has to control himself," Pitino said. "He is a terrific basketball player. He just has to emotionally control what he is trying to do."

Though he's made tremendous strides with his decision-making, Pitino says Smith still must continue to improve his understanding of the game.

"If they are in the bonus, you don't reach in and foul, or if time is on your side, you don't force a shot," Pitino said. "He will learn all these things, but the best thing about all these injuries is the development of Russ Smith. I probably wouldn't have played him that much if Wayne (Blackshear) was ready to go."

With tough upcoming non-conference games against Vanderbilt, Memphis and Kentucky, Smith's continued improvement at point guard could prove a positive development for Pitino's sixth-ranked Cardinals.

"We have a very good basketball player with him now, but like Chane (Behanan), he just has to learn the game," Pitino said. "He has to understand time and score, and he has to understand defense off the ball. He should be the best defender on the team, but he is not."


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