141780396 Rising Star: Louisvilles Russ Smith

(credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By: Mark Chalifoux

Louisville has been on a tear this tournament in what may be head coach Rick Pitino’s finest coaching job as the 4-seeded Cardinals are in the Final Four. They face archrival Kentucky in the semifinal and if the Cardinals are going to take down the best team in the tournament, they’ll need Russ Smith at the top of his game.

Smith has risen to the occasion against the Wildcats before. The sophomore guard averages 11.4 points per game, but dropped 30 on Kentucky in a loss earlier this season. No one has scored more than that against Kentucky.

Smith also came up huge in the last few tournament games for the Cards, scoring a team-best 19 in a tight win over Florida in the Elite Eight matchup. He scored 11 the previous round against 1-seeded Michigan State and 17 against 5-seeded New Mexico.

In the first tournament game and in the Big East championship game against Cincinnati, Smith scored a combined 10 points. And therein lies his biggest problem: consistency. He can be an all-world two-guard in one minute and a forgettable player the next.

He can dazzle and pour in points off the bench, but he can also shoot his team out of games trying. And if Louisville is going to beat Kentucky, they are going to need the Russ Smith that scored 19 against Florida and torched Kentucky earlier in the season. Not the one that played lackluster against Davidson and Cincinnati.

Video: Scorching Kentucky earlier in the season

Mark Chalifoux is a contributing writer to CBS Local Digital Media and can be reached at mark.chalifoux@gmail.com and @markchalifoux on Twitter.

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