There was only one way to honor Jack Curran on Thursday night and that was by to lead Louisville to a win. And only one person could do it, who…why no one other than Russ Smith. Smith scored 28 points in a bittersweet homecoming, carrying the fourth-ranked Cardinals into the Big East tournament semifinals with a 74-55 victory over Villanova only hours after the death of his high school coach. Smith and the defending champion Cardinals harassed Villanova into 25 turnovers and get to advance. They’ll be playing their familiar nemesis Notre Dame in the late game Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Luke Hancock added 12 points off the bench for second-seeded Louisville, which has won eight straight – seven by at least 14 points. Peyton Siva, the tournament MVP last year, scored 10. It reminds me of the game when Brett Favre beat the….Oakland Raiders when his father…look that was probably the dumbest moment in Brett Favre’s career, really the Oakland Raiders? Seriously they beat Villanova and anyone who thought they were going to lose is foolish. There was no way Louisville was going to lose this game to begin with. It’s great to see motivation on the court anyway but let’s not overstate that this is the reason why they won.
How did Russ feel about this game?
”Today was definitely Coach Curran day for me, and it will be the rest of my life,” he said.
Back home in New York, Smith received sad news early in the day about Curran, the longtime coaching great at Archbishop Molloy High School, who died Thursday at 82. He was among the nation’s winningest prep coaches in basketball and baseball.
”It was really hard for me for about 45 minutes when I was on the bus crying and stuff,” Smith said. ”It was almost heartbreaking to think about it.
”I’m going to miss him. He was everything to me, and to my mom, my family. He treated everyone with respect. He taught me a lot of things.”
Pitino huddled his players after their morning shootaround and told them about Curran’s death, then led the team in a prayer.
”Russ had a heavy heart tonight,” said Pitino, who also called Curran a good friend. ”I just told Russ we have to play this tournament and the NCAAs for Coach Curran. Coach Curran really enjoyed coaching Russ, and I really enjoy coaching Russ, but we both knew what he was all about. So it’s very exciting that Russ could have that type of game and honor his coach like that.”
Smith was his usual self on the court, an energetic whirlwind of speed, agility,steals, and jump shots to go along with his maddening turnovers and wild drives to the basket. He hit 10 of 11 free throws and shot 7 of 12 from the field, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range.
Smith is a very emotional player and that’s what sports are, they’re games of emotion. Let’s just hope this wasn’t a one-time deal. Smith needs to keep up his game or him and his team won’t be going much farther in the Big East tournament.