There's no one quite as frustrating as Russ Smith is for Rick Pitino. The coach also realizes it's hard for his Louisville team to win without the frenetic guard.
''I don't mean to do the things that I do sometimes,'' said Smith, who was apologizing to Pitino moments after the 17th-ranked Cardinals beat Pittsburgh 57-54 on Sunday. ''I'm not trying to get him upset, so I just want him to know that. I love Coach. I don't want to get him angry, mad at me.''
Smith scored 18 points and Kyle Kuric added 17, but Smith said his play late nearly cost Louisville when he nearly fouled by reaching in on defense in the final minute with the game on the line.
''It's so difficult with him,'' Pitino said. ''It really is. I've never known what a nervous breakdown is, but coaching him almost daily I feel like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown.''
With Kuric, there's hardly any worry.
The senior overcame an 0-for-11 performance in Thursday's loss to Cincinnati by hitting his first shot and making a key 3-pointer late. Kuric's bucket as the shot clock expired gave Louisville (22-7, 10-6 Big East) a 53-48 lead with 3:25 left.
''I got it, just had to shoot it and it went in,'' Kuric said. ''I wasn't thinking about it. I kept my confidence up like any other game and just not dwell on the fact that I was off (Thursday).''
Pittsburgh (15-14, 4-12) cut the lead to one and had three chances to tie or take the lead in the final minute, but Tray Woodall missed a jumper and senior Ashton Gibbs' shot from just inside halfcourt as time expired missed off the back iron with Smith chasing him.
''It was a good opportunity for us to come back and try and get in the groove and get the W but we fell short,'' said Pittsburgh forward J.J. Moore, who scored 16 points. ''We made some flaws on the defensive end and we made some flaws on the offensive end. It just fell through.''
Leading 53-52, Louisville freshman Chane Behanan had two chances to ice the game. The 60 percent free-throw shooter missed the first in a one-and-one situation, but Woodall missed a jumper and Behanan was fouled with 13 seconds left.
After he hit both, Woodall drove to the hoop, scoring with 5.2 seconds to play. The Panthers fouled Peyton Siva just over a second later and Siva made both to finish with 11 points.
On the final play, Moore found Gibbs, who dribbled just past the halfcourt line and just missed on a good look that would've tied the game.
''We don't have to learn how to win again. We know how to win. We just have to execute a lot of plays,'' Moore said. ''We play hard every day. The team knows how to win. We know how to win and we just have to put it out there on the court.''
Smith took over midway through the second half with the Cardinals trailing 38-35. Smith scored nine straight points in the span for Louisville, capping his spurt with a 3-pointer that made it 44-40 with 9:22 left.
''I have no idea what he does out there on the court,'' Pitino said. ''He's won about four or five games for us this year, he really has. I live with it. I coached Antoine Walker, I can live with any type of shot.''
On the next possession, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng blocked a shot and then tipped an inbounds pass to Siva that started a break that Kuric finished with a reverse layup. Pittsburgh's bench was called for a technical foul and Kuric hit the second of two free throws to make it 47-40 with 8:31 left.
Pittsburgh had one more rally and Moore's basket cut it to 50-48, but Dante Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one with a chance to tie, and Kuric hit a straightaway 3-pointer from 22 feet with the shot clock at 1 to put the Cardinals up 53-48 with 3:25 to go.
''You don't know how big that shot was,'' Smith said. ''There's definitely no punch line to that. Once he released it, everybody on the bench was like, `Please go in' and it went in. We got some breathing room, and that's what we needed.''
Woodall added hit a fadeaway shot over Kuric and Lamar Patterson found Taylor for a dunk with 28 seconds to go that made it 53-52 to set up the final sequence.
The Panthers have been hampered by injuries all season and Woodall (flu, groin), Nasir Robinson (left knee) and Gibbs (left ankle) missed parts of practice this week as the team has slumped following high preseason expectations.
There were brief glimpses of what Pittsburgh could've been, including a six-point spurt to start the second half that gave the Panthers a 30-25 lead, but Louisville answered when Siva hit a tough layup, made the first of two free throws and found Kuric for a 3-pointer to give Louisville a 31-30 lead.
The matchup had the feel of a Sunday pickup game with both sides trying to dribble through the other team's zone looks.
On one possession, Smith nearly lost the ball out of bounds on a pass as Pitino slapped his hands in his knees in disbelief. Passing proved to be a problem for Pittsburgh, too, when the ball from Woodall went right through Gibbs' hands without any pressure at midcourt as the teams combined for 33 turnovers.
''We felt it was a game we should have won and it just got away from us,'' Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. ''Turnovers were what really hurt us.''