Elite 8 in Phoenix: Louisville trusts walk-on Smith

2012-03-24T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:39:11Z Elite 8 in Phoenix: Louisville trusts walk-on SmithPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 24, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Chris Smith started for two years at Manhattan College, averaging 13.7 points as a sophomore, before deciding to transfer in 2009.

He told his coach back then, Barry Rohrssen, he wanted to go to Louisville. Rohrssen was incredulous.

"Have you talked to Pitino?" he asked.

Truth is, Smith hadn't met Cardinals coach Rick Pitino.

Smith went to Louisville anyway, after talking to two Louisville assistants. They couldn't promise playing time.

"I said, 'OK, I'll take my chances,'" Smith said Friday.

He checked into a dorm, went to the practice gym and met Pitino for the first time.

The coach thought Smith was a manager, but knows better now. Smith is averaging 9.7 points as Louisville's starting shooting guard entering today's NCAA West Region final against Florida.

Be it in zone or man-to-man defense, Smith will be tasked with guarding Florida's Bradley Beal, who scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting Thursday.

Smith is a walk-on, having attended Louisville the past three seasons - the first as a mandatory redshirt - with money provided by his brother, J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks.

"He doesn't feel the pressure to try and be J.R., because he knows he's not, from a size standpoint, and otherwise," Pitino said. "But he gets a lot of worldly gifts that most young people do not, because he's J.R.'s brother."

Chris Smith has a Range Rover, and he traveled to Phoenix with eight Knicks' hats.

J.R. Smith has sworn he'll attend the Final Four.

"He said he'll make it - 'You just have to play, and get me there,'" Chris Smith said.

Lessons learned

Last season, in this same Elite Eight round, the Gators led Butler 51-40 midway through the second half before losing by three in overtime.

"We learned that loose balls and all those things are key in games like this," Florida guard Erving Walker said. "Teams at this time of year are really good at those types of things."

The loss "fueled us a lot," guard Kenny Boynton said.

"We were so close last year, and so close really doesn't cut it," he said.

Rim shots

• The Gators are wary of Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, a 6-foot-11-inch center who blocked seven shots Thursday.

"Great shot blockers: We learned we have to keep them away from the rim, space them out," Florida's Walker said. "And get the ball inside to Patric (Young) and let him attack them or (Erik Murphy) on spread, pick-and-rolls, hopefully get open threes."

• Everyone but Louisville guard Peyton Siva can hear his boisterous dad in the stands.

"Coach P has to turn around and tell him to be quiet sometimes," said Siva, a junior. "I learned to block it out in middle school."

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