Why Russdiculousness is a good thing for Louisville

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ATLANTA — On Saturday night, we got a glimpse of Russ Smith in all his glory.

His dizzyingly-talented, frustratingly inconsistent glory.

He shot 6-17 from the floor. He was 5-12 from the free throw line, missing the first four free throws of the game and two of six in the final minute, which left the door open for the Shockers down the stretch. He had four first half turnovers and five on the game. He played as terribly as he had all season long for about the first 10 minutes of the game, but he never stopped attacking. He never stopped being aggressive. He never hesitated when he saw a gap in the Wichita State defense or had space on the perimeter to fire up a three.

That’s who he is. That’s Russdiculous.

“I stay aggressive. I don’t change my game for anything,” Smith said on Sunday. “We had two games left. If I keep the same game-plan and play the same way, eventually the shots are going to go in. That’s the way I feel.”

And it paid off for the Cardinals on Saturday. Smith finished with 21 points and made some key plays late in the first half to keep Wichita State from pulling away, and his defense was a major factor in Malcolm Armstead’s nightmare performance. Armstead was 1-8 from the floor last night.

That’s what you get when Smith plays.

And it’s taken a while for Pitino to learn that, to learn that Smith isn’t going to change.

“I don’t even bother [yelling at him] because he doesn’t listen to a word I say,” Pitino said.

But here’s the thing: he has. As out of control as Smith has looked at times this season, as crazy as some of those shots that he took last night appeared to people that hadn’t watched Smith play at all this season or in his three years at Louisville, he’s dialed it down this year. He’s making better decisions. He doesn’t shoot the ball every time he touches it this year. He’s making better decisions. He’s becoming more efficient. That’s why he’s an all-american as a junior after a sophomore campaign where he was more of a sideshow than an NBA Draft prospect and a freshman season where he played so few minutes Smith nearly transferred.

Seriously.

He had his bags packed, but a teammate convinced him to show up for a January 26th game against West Virginia. Smith had regular boxers on instead of compression shorts. He wasn’t taped up. Instead of his wearing multiple pairs of socks, he had on just one pair. He happened to play nine minutes that night, but if he didn’t, who knows what would have happened.

Perhaps more than anything else, the reason for Smith’s development has been Pitino’s acceptance that Russ is always going to be Russ. He understands that, on the whole, Smith does more good than bad. Trying to control him isn’t going to make him a better player. You can channel that aggressiveness and eliminate some of the worst shots, but taking away Smith’s aggressiveness would nullify his usefulness.

Pitino gets that.

Barely in control just the way that Russ plays.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: