PORTLAND, Ore. — Moments after turning in one of his finest performances of the season on college basketball's grandest stage, Louisville guard Russ Smith celebrated in a way only he could.
Smith gave Rick Pitino bunny ears on national television as the legendary Cardinals coach was explaining to a TBS sideline reporter how his team had defeated New Mexico 59-56 to reach the Sweet 16.
The postgame antics from Smith made for an ideal finish to a day that perfectly summed up the erratic yet irreverent Brooklyn-born guard.
On the one hand, the 5-foot-10 Smith botched a breakaway dunk and briefly got benched for mouthing off during a huddle. On the other hand, he also scored a team-high 17 points and sank all three of his attempts from behind the arc to help propel the Cardinals to a Sweet 16 matchup with either Michigan State or Saint Louis next week.
It was enough to make Pitino compare coaching Smith to the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" during his postgame press conference.
"Coaching this young man is going to make me be a star of remake of that movie," Pitino joked. "When you coach Russ Smith you have a nervous breakdown on every possession. He wasn't shooting the three well. And to show you how dumb I am, I'm yelling, 'Take it, Russ.' But he always comes up big for us. When we struggle for points he's always there. I'm real proud of him."
Smith has averaged 11.4 points per game this season as a spark plug off the bench, but the way he has done it has been highly unusual. Five times this season Smith has scored 20 or more points, but he also was just 5 for 32 from the field in Louisville's four games prior to Saturday's win over New Mexico.
Asked if he had any way to predict when his sporadic scoring outbursts would come, Smith insisted it just depends what Louisville needs that night.
"I just go look on the bench, and look and see what we need," Smith said. "If we need defensive energy, then I'm going to try to bring that. If we need points, I'll try to do that. If we need to settle down and give starting point guard Peyton [Siva] a breather and slow the tempo, I'll try to do that."
Smith saw that Louisville needed scoring against New Mexico's stingy defense, so that's what he tried to deliver Saturday. And the comic relief? That was just a bonus.
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