Transcript: Rick Pitino Previews Virginia

Photo: Tim Haag/
Photo: Tim Haag/

Here is the full transcript (Courier-Journal) from Rick Pitino’s press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Opening statement: If you look at what they’ve accomplished this year. They way they’ve played on the road has been amazing. Apparently they’ve got one of the best arenas in the ACC and I’m looking forward to seeing it. This is a great basketball team that we have to play twice. Certainly, we’re going to have to really execute to come away with a victory.

Virginia’s opponents only average 2.2 fast-break points per game. How do they do that? They just run back. They don’t concentrate on offensive rebounding. They run back.

From watching Duke, how did they get out and run as much vs. UVA: Really, Virginia, Duke beat them at the end of the game with NBA threes. North Carolina did a good job of executing for a half. Then Virginia, in the last five minutes of the game, just wears you out. Physically they’re very big. They’re one of the biggest teams in the NCAA.

On Virginia’s execution: You heard a lot about their pack-line defense. Basically what they do is five guys play the ball below the foul line, and they don’t give you a good look. They put you under duress every possession.

On UVA coach Tony Bennett: Well, he’s like the coach at Wichita State, he’s one of the bright young coaches in the game. And, you know, he’s got staying power because his teams execute so well.

On Virginia’s defense: About two months ago, I showed our team — we were not helping right defensively, we were playing on the ball, we were on what I called strong-side defense very well but we didn’t play weak-side defense. And I showed them Virginia, this was a month ago, or six weeks ago, about look at the way they play the ball, five guys. Five guys play the ball. We do that all the time to illustrate something we want to teach. We’ll either use professional basketball or, if it’s teaching rebounding, we use Faried, if we’re teaching the duck-in we go to Zach Randolph from Memphis, who is a great duck-in guy. So we’re always using illustration. And my illustration for five guys playing the ball correctly is Virginia.

On getting good shots vs. UVA: Very difficult. You’ve got to be a great shooting team to get good shots, because they’ll give it to you, and the opening will be a moment, and you’ve got to take that opening and have great spacing, great movement.

On Louisville’s improving defense: We played a great defensive game, our close-outs were great against Miami, our rotations were great, Wayne Blackshear made some great rotations, Montrezl. Chinanu has really improved immensely on defending pick and rolls.

On Virginia’s size: Well their size — they make difficult shots. They shoot it well. They pass it well. They’re just as good offensively as they are defensively. Probably not many people know that. The people who follow them know that but you all probably don’t know.

On Wayne Blackshear: Wayne’s having a very good year. He’s not having a very good year shooting the basketball from the outside, because he doesn’t have enough lift on his shot, arc-wise. When he gets the lift on his shot he shoots it very well. But that’s been a process we’re working very hard to cure. But he’s having a very good year of driving the basketball, handling it with both hands. He’s made great improvements, you don’t see it, but we see it every day in practice. He makes big plays for us defensively in games.

(He made two defensive plays at the end of the Miami game …) and a great defensive play on a rotation. Chris got credit for the steal, but he made the steal happen, basically, by tipping it to him.

More on Blackshear: Yeah, you know, Wayne’s got to drive more and shoot less from the outside. If you’re just going to rely on your jump shot your statistics aren’t going to be great. That’s what Luke did last year. He was a great shooter, but he drove it a lot. Wayne needs to do that and he’s been doing that. He’s having a good year. You look at his stats and you wouldn’t think so but he’s having a good year.

On playing mostly his starters vs. UVA: I think I’m a little confused with all of you sometimes with your questions. For years I followed Syracuse and they only played seven guys. This is college basketball. We don’t play a hundred games. You don’t have to play 10 people. I know you guys love the platoon systems, but (laughter), but we don’t have to do that. We have more than enough bench. I don’t have it on me, but I have it upstairs just to tell my team. But I’ll give you an example. Russ Smith as a freshman I think averaged 2.3 points a game and played like five minutes a game. Peyton Siva I think played nine minutes a game and averaged three points. Gorgui Dieng played 13 minutes a game and averaged like five or six. And they turned out to be pretty good. As a matter of fact, there’s a little plaque in the hallway that Kenny just put in, Russ’ All-American plaque.

So, I don’t know what this thing is about a bench and what’s wrong with playing starters all those minutes. I don’t understand the last game all those questions about we have no bench scoring. We have no bench scoring because we’re playing the starters the whole game. I don’t know what’s wrong with that. If you would like to see Anton Gill in place of Terry Rozier, just give me that question, would you?

(WHAS’s Kent Spencer: I’m not the coach.) I’m not saying you. But do you want Jaylen Johnson to play in place of Montrezl Harrell? We’re not getting bench points because we really don’t have to play those guys, because the stamina is unbelievable. And if we did — I’m not saying you personally, by the way — if we did get in foul trouble, Quentin Snider is more than capable of stepping in because he’s playing terrific right now. And Mangok and Chinanu split the position. Do we get a lot out of them scoring wise? No. But like Hubie Brown says, if you’ve got three and a half to four scorers in your lineup, you have a good lineup. We more than have that. So, I guess, I don’t think our bench is as weak as the questions being asked are. I just think we rely so heavily on our starters, which I think is a great thing.

On his starters’ stamina: Well, Chris Jones’ stamina is incredible. Terry’s is good. Montrezl’s is good. Wayne’s is very good. So they’re more than capable. But we have a decent bench, we really do. If I would play them, you would see it.

On Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang: You know what’s one thing — our guys make fun of Chinanu all the time because he always drops the ball. He drops the ball almost 50 percent less than Gorgui Dieng dropped the ball as a freshman. They just don’t understand freshmen. The upperclassmen have no tolerance. Montrezl is impatient with these guys. It’s unbelievable. He reminds me of 20 years ago when I was coaching. He has no patience for guys dropping the ball or not being in the right place. Thank God he’s going to be a player and not a coach.

On Chris Jones and Terry Rozier: You know, they have great chemistry. Right now our chemistry is great, but their chemistry has always been great, where our chemistry on our team hasn’t always been great. From Day 1, they really clicked together on the basketball court. There was a play in the game (at Miami) — just watching it on tape, I appreciated it so much more — where Chris Jones stripped, I think it was Angel Rodriguez, dove to the ground and he was trailing Rodriguez, got the ball and immediately passed it to Terry and Terry got fouled. And Chris joked to Terry, ‘At least you could have made the basket and got me the assist after all that.’ So they’ve got great chemistry. They’re a great backcourt. I won’t say they’re the best backcourt in the country because I’m sure Mike Brey would argue with me, I’m sure every coach would argue with me. But they’re one of the top backcourts in the nation.

On sticking to what Louisville does best against Virginia: What you do is tell them it’s a Wichita State-type game. If you’re not in the same class defensively, you have no chance of winning. It starts with defense, which rebounding is part of. And then you go to offense. We’ll show them more ways to potentially score from a spacing standpoint than any other game, because they’re so difficult to score against. Ask Harvard.

On freshmen improving over a season: It depends on what type of freshman you have. You know, like, you always expect growth. You don’t see it because I’m not playing them as much, but Quentin Snider has made tremendous strides, much more than I even expected, in practice. He’s playing great right now. And I always base it on — the one thing I have found about teaching potential and putting so much emphasis on it now in recruiting — how much of a work ethic a person has. If a person has a great work ethic, they’re going to reach their potential in our system. And Q has that.

Shaqquan has it somewhat, but he makes a lot of mistakes. It’s almost like I asked Ray Ganong to give me a breakdown of the freshmen in the weight room, exactly what he said is exactly the same thing on the court. Chinanu, he said I have to prod him to get him to work hard. Same thing in basketball. If I don’t stay on Chinanu, he will not work. If I stay on him, he works very hard and he gets a lot better. Anas and Matz don’t work hard. Their culture is not for hard work. So you’ve got to — and Gorgui basically was the same way. Foreign cultures are a lot different, and you’ve got to be patient with that.

On how his team will be different in March: I think Chinanu is getting better. I think Quentin Snider is getting better. I think Wayne Blackshear will be a very good tournament player, because, like I said, he’s having a much better year than statistical things show. I think if Montrezl, Terry and Chris can just play the way they’re playing, it would be terrific. And I think that Mangok and Chinanu need to get better.

On if he’s confident they will get better: I think our guys need to develop more confidence in their ability to score. I don’t think they get the ball because our guys look away. If it’s Montrezl, they look at him. Their afraid they’re not going to catch it. But the only way for them to catch it is to throw the ball. But because they drop the ball so much our guys don’t throw it to them enough. I’ve got confidence.

On Onuaku’s confidence: My feeling is, when you have a tremendous work ethic, you have tremendous confidence, and if you don’t have tremendous work ethic, there’s no reason for you to have tremendous confidence. So I think that probably answers that question.

On a player with work ethic: I think Quentin Snider is tremendous. He is limited athletically. He can’t dunk the ball … but he is going to have a very good college career because he has a tremendous work ethic. There’s not been a time from the day he started that I thought he had given me anything short of 100 percent. And I can’t say that about anybody else on the team.

On how Louisville’s improved on offense: Ever since we said, ‘Look, we’ve got to do something about our shooting woes, and the number one thing is paint touches.’ Two weeks ago, we started getting into the paint — and against Virginia that’s a tough task — but ever since we started doing that, our offense has improved immensely.

On Jones and Rozier helping Harrell: Any time they see Montrezl on the break, any time they see penetration, they are guaranteed an assist because he’s going to dunk the ball. In their minds, I can sense in their mind it’s 50-50 whether Nanu or Mangok is going to catch the ball because they’re always poking fun at them. I say, ‘Guys, keep it up, that’s a great way to instill confidence.’ We started lining them up on the baseline and throwing them bad passes, trying to get them to look the ball into their hands. Nanu’s capable of catching it and dunking it. You look at Gorgui, and he is developing into a terrific pro, and he was worse than that. It’s a process.

On Virginia taking away transition: The thing that’s amazing about Virginia is they pass the ball real well, but the pick and roll is normally played by three people. They play pick and roll with five guys and they don’t let you make passes on the perimeter. They don’t let you go east and west and it’s going to be difficult to go north and south. And they get back to take away transition baskets.

On Virginia’s offense improving from last season: They shoot it well, they pass it well and they’ve got great size. They can penetrate, they’ve got guys who can put it on the floor very well. When you look at teams that could potentially get to the Final Four, they’re very much on everybody’s list.

On if Louisville is also on that list: A month ago I wouldn’t even….At the beginning of the year, if you had told me we’d be 19-3, I’d say, ‘Where do we sign that contract?’ I never thought we’d be close to this record. I told this to Kenny: ‘We’re really going to have a tough year.’ But we just kept getting better and better and better, and we maintained our road toughness. We played three Big Ten teams very well, so I’m very pleased where we are right now. To say we’re Final Four class, I wouldn’t say so.

On why he said it’d be tough: We just weren’t playing good defense. We weren’t a close basketball team. We were like two divisions, the old and the new. We weren’t passing well. We weren’t rebounding well. Every week we seemed to have another major obstacle we had to overcome. It started with rebounding, our passing, shooting, you name it and we had it — measles, chicken pox, mumps. I just think it was gradual (improvement). Our chemistry has picked up, Chris Jones has evolved into a mature human being. He’s come a long, long way. It’s one of the most pleasing things I’ve had as a basketball coach — his transformation as a person.

On if they look at games like UVA as tournament resume-builders: I don’t care about that. I don’t really care if we’re a 1 seed or a 4 seed. As long as you’re playing good basketball, and we’re playing good basketball, hoping to continue. I like our chemistry, I like our backcourt, I like the way Montrezl has had a rebirth in terms of the way he should be playing. I like the way Wayne is playing. We’ve got to get Chinanu and Mangok (better), but I like the way Chinanu is improving defensively. He couldn’t handle the pick and roll. Now he’s gotten very good at it. Both of those guys defensively are doing a good job. Now we’ve just got to get improvement catching the basketball. Mangok actually threw a terrific bounce ball, I almost passed out.

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