Stats & Info: Russ Smith

Cardinals' keys for Final Four

March, 29, 2012
Christopher Hanewickel/US PresswireLouisville advanced to its ninth Final Four with its victory over Florida on Saturday.
The Louisville Cardinals are making their ninth trip to the Final Four, the fewest of this year’s participants.

Here are five things to watch for Louisville this weekend.

Pitino has been here before
Rick Pitino is the third coach to take more than one team to multiple Final Fours. The other two coaches to do so were Jack Gardner and Roy Williams.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Pitino is the second coach to face a former team in the Final Four. Roy Williams led North Carolina to the Final Four in 2008, where he lost to former school Kansas.

This is Pitino’s sixth Final Four appearance, and three of those trips have been with teams seeded fourth or lower. He is the first coach to lead three teams seeded that low to the Final Four since seeding began in 1979. Larry Brown, Tom Izzo, Lute Olson and Brad Stevens have each done it twice.

Pitino has been to Final Fours in New Orleans before, but hasn't the best of results. This is the third time that he has led a team to the national semifinals in New Orleans, with Providence in 1987 and Kentucky in 1993 both falling short of the championship game.

Defense wins championships
Louisville is holding its opponents to 35 percent shooting when it plays man-to-man defense this season, the lowest percentage in the nation.

The Cardinals’ man defense held Kentucky to 22 percent (5-for-23) when the teams met earlier this year. That was the lowest field goal percentage by the Wildcats against man-to-man defense this season.

Louisville has recorded 29 steals in the NCAA tournament, the second-highest total in the field. Fourteen of those steals were by players stepping into passing lanes, while 13 were strips.

Big East runs redux
Louisville’s run to the Final Four bears a close resemblance to Connecticut’s title run last season.

Last year, the Huskies went 9-9 in the Big East and finished in ninth place. The Cardinals lost one fewer game this year and received a first-round bye in the Big East tournament by finishing seventh.

Both teams entered the Big East tournament with four losses in their last six games before starting long winning streaks.

Key player
When Louisville played Kentucky on New Year’s Eve, Russ Smith scored a career-high 30 points off the bench as the Cardinals lost by seven. Unfortunately for Louisville, he was the only player to reach double figures.

After scoring only 46 points in his previous six games, Smith has scored 47 points in his last three games and led the Cardinals in scoring twice.

Second chances
Kentucky outscored Louisville 20-6 on second-chance opportunities earlier this season, and that number could be key in the rematch.

Louisville has allowed only 9 second-chance points in its last two games. Kentucky has scored 26 points in the same span, and leads the SEC with 13 second-chance points per game this season.

More history to be made in New Orleans

March, 27, 2012
After upsets leading into the Final Four the past two seasons, this year’s event is for blue bloods only.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time that every national semifinalist has made at least eight prior Final Four appearances.

The only other Final Four in which each team had made more than five previous semifinal appearances was 1993. That year was the 11th appearance for North Carolina while Kansas and Kentucky were making their 10th trip and Michigan its sixth.

Rematches provide rare second chances
For the first time since 1964, the national semifinals will feature two rematches of regular-season contests.

That season, Duke avenged an early-season loss to Michigan and UCLA beat Kansas State for the second time. The Bruins beat the Blue Devils in the championship game to finish the season 30-0 as John Wooden won his first title.

Both of this year’s matchups occurred in December.

On Dec. 10, Kansas beat Ohio State 78-67 in Lawrence, handing the Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Thomas Robinson scored 21 points to lead the Jayhawks while Tyshawn Taylor dished out a career-high 13 assists.

One big difference this time around will be Jared Sullinger, who did not play in December because of back spasms. Ohio State shot just 39 percent from the floor while Kansas shot 58 percent.

Kentucky and Louisville met on New Year’s Eve in Lexington. In the first matchup between the two as top-five teams since Rick Pitino arrived in Louisville, the Wildcats won by seven points.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 24 points and pulled down 19 rebounds, becoming the first Kentucky player to have a 20-15 game against a top-five opponent in 15 seasons. Russ Smith scored a career-high 30 points off the bench for Louisville, but no starter scored in double figures.

Seeing the game from both sides
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino spent eight years at Kentucky, leading the Wildcats to three Final Fours and a national championship in 1996. His semifinal matchup with Kentucky will be just the second time that a Final Four game pits a coach against a former team. In 2008, Roy Williams and North Carolina lost to Kansas in a semifinal.

ACC left out of party
What this year’s Final Four doesn’t have is a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference. It’s just the second time since the tournament expanded in 1985 that the ACC has failed to have a Final Four team in consecutive years -- the other was 2006-07.

That makes four times in the last seven years that the ACC hasn't had a Final Four representative, matching the number of times the national semifinals were played without an ACC team in the 21 years from 1985-2005.

Championship ring redux
Looking ahead, it’s possible that the national championship game will feature two coaches who have already won a title. If Louisville and Kansas win on Saturday, Monday’s title game will be the sixth in the last 50 years between coaches with championship rings.

Wednesday recap: Seniors shine in victory

March, 1, 2012
Player of the Night – Jared Sullinger
In a heartbreaking result for Northwestern, Sullinger’s turnaround with 3 seconds to go gave Ohio State a 75-73 victory. The sophomore finished with 22 points and a season-high 18 rebounds. Sullinger is the first Big Ten player with those totals in a conference game since Penn State’s Jarrett Stephens in 2000. He equaled Northwestern’s rebounding total, as the Buckeyes held a 44-18 advantage on the glass.

Senior of the Night – Tyler Zeller
Zeller made his final home game a memorable one, as North Carolina beat Maryland 88-64. Zeller went 20-for-23 at the line, breaking Tyler Hansbrough’s Smith Center record for free throws made. He fell one make shy of York Larese’s school record set in 1959. Zeller finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Stat Sheet Stuffer – Andrew Nicholson
St. Bonaventure locked up a bye in the A-10 Tournament with a 98-93 double-overtime win over Saint Joseph's. It’s the Bonnies’ second win in their last 19 meetings with the Hawks. Nicholson helped solidify his A-10 Player of the Year candidacy with 32 points and 14 rebounds. He’s averaging 30 points and 12 rebounds over the Bonnies’ past four games, all wins. Nicholson is now just six points shy of 2,000 for his career.

Breakout Performance – Jaquon Parker
Cincinnati can feel a whole lot safer about the bubble after a 72-61 win over Marquette. The Bearcats have their signature win, and can now claim six wins over the RPI Top 50. The story of the game was the emergence of Parker, who finished with a career-high 28 points. He’d averaged just 6 points over his previous 14 games.

Ugly Stat Line – Russ Smith
Louisville put up an ugly performance at home, shooting just 34 percent in a 58-51 loss to South Florida. Primarily coming off the bench, Smith is Louisville’s second-leading scorer at 12 points per game. But Wednesday, he went 0-for-8 from the field in 17 minutes of action. Over their past three home games, the Cardinals are averaging 53 points and shooting 36 percent from the field.