Coach Rick Pitino spoke to Terry Meiners on Monday afternoon about the Kentucky game, a lineup change, and more. You can click the link and listen to the interview, or check out the full transcript below from courier-journal.com.
On not talking to the media: I put it out there for any questions and didn’t have any questions. I didn’t want to stand up there with nothing to say. The past two weeks I haven’t been feeling well, and to tell you the truth, I was anxious to get home. I’m feeling a lot better now. I gave them the option to ask questions and nobody had a question. To the victor goes the spoils, and I know Cal will do a lot of talking, so let him take my place.
On if he’s tiring of the rivalry game: No, we ought to play this game. It makes you a better team. I had less worries in the Wilmington team. The media didn’t have any questions. That’s why I went on. When I was up playing Marquette, they went on a run against us and they won five or six straight, and everybody was saying they had our number. And then we turned it around. What we’ve got to do (against UK) is turn it around. When we get the level of player and a deeper bench, we will turn it around. Right now there’s nothing wrong with the game. They do get 6,000 fans in the game. When I pulled up, they had a thousand blue shirts on the concourse waiting to get in. You’ve got to give them credit for it.
On U of L’s shooting woes: They’re a great defensive team. As Cal likes to say about us, they hold and they grab. They play very physical, the type of defense I love to teach and love to see. So you’ve got to give them credit for the physical way they play defense. That’s what made us shoot the low percentage. We did miss nine easy shots. What happens when you miss those easy ones, you get a little tighter. We want to take less than five challenged shots per game … We were 1 for 12 in that game. That’s the one thing we don’t want to do. Statistically, we’ve shot less than 22 percent when take challenged shots.
We’re going to make some changes to our lineup because of that. We’ve got to get some high-percentage shots in our offense. Offensively, the biggest weakness wasn’t passing. The biggest weakness in this game was our screening. Our inside people did about as poor of a job of screening — when you’re playing against an aggressive team that is going to play very aggressive, you have screen them properly. In football, if you want to have a great running game, you have to have great blocking … We did a very poor job of screening in that game.
On physical play vs. UK: Our strategy was to play that type of game. We knew they were going to be a rough team. They’re the best defensive team in the country. You don’t get that by being soft. You get that by being aggressive, blocking shots and hitting people. That’s how you become Virginia or Kentucky, a great defensive team. We knew that. We wanted to keep them out of transition. We felt if we could keep them out of transition, we could win. We didn’t know if we could keep them off the backboard. That’s one thing we haven’t been able to do the last three years, and we didn’t do a good job of that on Saturday.
On this UK team vs. the 1996 UK team: It’s totally different. There’s no answer to it. You may have an opinion. And I may have an opinion. And someone else may have an opinion. But it’s not a valid opinion because you’re never going to play. This Kentucky basketball team is the best defensive team I’ve seen in the last 20 years — in terms of they way they get over screens, and the physicality of the way they play, the way they block shots. The great things about it is, the Harrisons aren’t playing well against defense, so what do they do? Bring in the other two guys to see if they can solve their defense and they bring in Ulis and Booker. They had great games. Foul trouble’s not going to bother them. Fatigue’s not going to bother them. They don’t have a defensive weakness. They’re very well-drilled and they can block shots.
It’s the best defensive team I’ve seen in quite some time. Someone asked me, ‘Will they lose?’ They have played great in the big games. They played great against Kansas, Texas, UCLA, they played great defense against us, North Carolina. Where they haven’t played great was against Columbia or Buffalo, so if they were to lose, it’s not going to be for a game that is earmarked on their schedule. They’re ready for that. It’s going to be a night where there’s nobody in the stands — well, that doesn’t really happen for Kentucky because they bring 5,000 people — but it could happen in a place that you couldn’t expect, if it happens at all.
On UK fans at the Yum Center: There’s not a whole lot I can control with that. I wish our fans who aren’t going to be at the game would sell it back to the university. We’ll pay double the amount on the ticket if they sell it back to us. If the ticket’s $25, we’ll pay $50. It’s nothing I can do. I can’t complain about it. I’ve never complained about blue shirts because I’ve coached there. I know what they do. I’ve witnessed it on the road.
The one thing I can tell you is, when I said Kentucky isn’t a great homecourt advantage, you thought I lived on a different planet. I said Ohio State would be much better. I think our fans now — and the media — know what I was talking about. You’ll see great atmosphere for the Duke game, the Carolina game, the Miami game. You’ll see a great atmosphere, a great homecourt advantage. The Kentucky game is not that way. I was sort of caught off-guard by the media’s response to that. I thought it was quite obvious.
On Long Beach State: We believed that we prepared and we were going to win that game. Not that we didn’t have respect of their basketball ability, they certainly have a great basketball team. But we believed we were going to win that game, and we didn’t. So right now, especially in this state, they’re going to get it wherever they go. They’ll get it from the Kentucky fan who’s going to mock them and they’ll get it from the Louisville fan who’s disappointed. That being said, we all have jobs to do. I base the season on reaching your potential come NCAA tournament time.
Right now, we’ve got a very difficult Long Beach State team. They’ve played at BYU, at Xavier, they played Xavier again and beat them, they played at UCLA, they played Washington, they played at San Diego State, they played at Texas in a war, at St. John’s and at Syracuse. They’ve made $800,000 in guarantees, but not only are they getting the money, they’re playing the toughest schedule in the country. They’re going to be more than ready for us. If we don’t bring it, if we bring a North Carolina Wilmington performance to that game, we will lose.
On the starting lineup change: I’d rather not say. I’m going to hold the quarterback until the last moment.