by Tyler Richardson
Peyton Siva and Russ Smith may share the same backcourt, but the paths they took to Louisville and the way they play the game are nothing alike.
Smith, a self-proclaimed no-name recruit from Brooklyn, NY, is lightning in a bottle, a lethal scorer who dares any opponent to try and guard him.
Like the perfect meal, the 1 and off-the-bench 2 on last year’s Final Four team balance one another out. Their continued cohesiveness has buoyed both guards toward career years.
Smith has increased his scoring from 11.5 ppg his sophomore season to 18.1 this year, showing a more consistent stroke and an uncanny ability to beat defenders off the dribble in his new role in the starting lineup. Smith, who Rick Pitino compared to a poor man’s Allen Iverson, credits adding 12 pounds of muscle for his emergence as one of the nation’s most feared guards.
“I came back really strong, and that kickstarted my season,” the Wooden Award finalist says. “I was a bull. I felt athletically I was superior to all of my competition.”
Siva spent part of last summer going against some of the top guards in the country at Chris Paul’s camp. Taking different attributes from their games—like the patience of Mizzou’s Phil Pressey and the aggressiveness of Michigan’s Trey Burke—has helped the diminutive PG reach career numbers in assists, 5.9, and points, 10.0.
Despite their poised play, a late January three-game losing skid had some outsiders doubting whether a Siva/Smith-led team has what it takes to make another deep run come Tourney time. The duo isn’t worried, though.
“A lot of people don’t realize we lost four out of our last six (regular-season) games last year,” Siva says. “Then we came out swinging and went to a Final Four. It’s my job to continue to tell my teammates, ‘We all we got.’”