Transcript from ASAP Sports. Edited by me.
COACH PITINO: Well, I couldn’t be more pumped up, more excited because we beat such a great team. Sometimes I hate these press conferences because you listen to the other guys up here first and you just bleed for a group like Northern Iowa, who the reason we played so well tonight is the amount of respect we had for them. We knew they were a great team, statistically, five seniors, we know they’re beautifully coached, so sometimes it breaks your heart even in victory. We are so pumped and so excited because we know the feeling on the other end, but for us, this is the first time in history, according to go Kenny Klein, that this is four Sweet 16s in a row. And Louisville’s had a very rich tradition. So we’re very proud of that.
These two guys kind of amazed me, because I prod them the whole game because I can’t take them out. Montrezl was just working so hard and he was so dead, and I kept saying: You got to give us more, son. You got to give us more. You can’t tire. And I don’t know how they do it, I really don’t know how both of them do it, but they have done it the whole year. They have carried a team on their back that it has many problems and tonight we played our best game of the season. Defensively we did a lot of good things, switching from zone to man, back to zone, back to man. And then offensively, that’s the best we have executed with swinging the ball, east to west, and then attacking north to south. So I’m real proud of these guys. Two guys that are going to go on to — I won’t say greener — I could say greener pastures, because they probably will be, but they’re tremendous basketball players. It’s been an honor to coach both of them.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
QUESTION: Coach, your defensive schematics tonight really confused those Northern Iowa kids. Is that something that you designed well before the game, or was it an ongoing process?
COACH PITINO: We have been doing it all year. We simplified this tonight. I told the guys we’re not going to press but sparingly, so I want you to — we only have one day — I want you to really, really focus. What helped us tremendously was playing Virginia twice. Because this is a shooting version of Virginia in terms of the way they play. And that’s the highest compliment I can give a team. So we wanted to really focus in on keeping our bigs inside, switching our back court guys outside, going man, going zone, and they did it to perfection. Then they came down the court offensively and they all took great shots. They just were not only — they were not only tremendous basketball-wise tonight but they were very, very intelligent in the way they approached this game.
QUESTION: Coach, for you, I was kind of wondering, you talk about the four Sweet 16s, what makes this year especially sweet? And maybe for the players, maybe can you talk about the last month and the ups and downs you’ve gone through to get here.
COACH PITINO: You guys take it.
MONTREZL HARRELL: Well, as a basketball program we have had a lot of ups and downs in this season, but I feel like we responded in the right way. I feel like we came together as a team tonight and we really did the key things that we need to do on the defensive end to make sure that we rode our team to a victory. We know that Coach is going to coach us for every part of the game, so we made sure we stayed together as a team, we took the coaching and we went out there and executed our game plan.
TERRY ROZIER: He said it right on the money. We prepared. We only had one day to prepare, and we know it was a tough team, a lot of seniors on that team, so we just wanted to go out there and just stick together and keep them off the backboards and just, most importantly, win the game. We had a lot of — we played with great effort and we got the job done. So a lot of props go to them. They did a good job today.
QUESTION: Coach, I wanted to ask you maybe just a comment on Terry’s game today, because there were some times where nobody could guard him. Then I was going to get whoever at the panel to talk about the two ESPN alley-oops at the end that ended the game. And also, but more specifically, did your being able to shoot maybe set those up at the end?
TERRY ROZIER: Well, it starts in practice. The guy that’s guarding Montrezl, he’s kind of like blind to see Montrezl and he might point up, so everybody’s watching the ball, so I just see him and I just throw it up there and he go get it. That’s an easy play to make because you can basically throw it anywhere by the rim and he’ll go get it. And we got that feel for each other. So we made it happen today. Both of them oops I threw him.
MONTREZL HARRELL: With that being said, it was one of those things where I told these guys: You put the ball anywhere around the rim that I’m going to catch it no matter what. I’ll come down and it will be my turnover before it will be a turnover on you. So majority of the time the guys put it in the right spot and I try to finish it for them because I know they work so hard with getting open, I set screens off them and they give me the ball on the inside. So when they put the ball around the rim, I try to make sure I finish for them.
COACH PITINO: Yeah, you know, with both of them, the interesting thing about both guys, I always tell pro scouts this, I say: Look, I don’t have to tell you about their abilities, it’s very evident. But what you get with these guys is they don’t take a possession off in practice. So, if I’m a pro general manager, I know these guys are going to a pro team, and they have been built to play every possession and not take any time off. So when you’re drafting a basketball player, you want that type of heart and that type of attitude. Their skill level is great. Terry has improved dramatically and Montrezl came back and he’s become much better at every phase of the game. There’s a lot of things you don’t notice. The shooting is obvious, but a lot of things — his ball handling, his passing, his blocking shots, his maturity.
So both of these guys I think are going to have — they had great careers now, but I think they’re going to go on and be terrific NBA players because of how hard they play all the time. That’s a skill as well as shooting, dribbling, or anything else. I said this about Terry since he’s come in, he just acts like a professional every single day. He takes coaching, he takes criticism, he takes it. And Montrezl is a warrior. He is — you see all these dunks. We see 15 of them every practice where we say: Get out of the way or somebody’s getting hurt. And I tell our guys: Just do not get in his way. Just get out of his way, let him dunk the ball and have fun. He’s relentless the way he wants to dunk in practice. Even in like we go five lines he want to break a backboard.
TERRY ROZIER: He’s not giving himself enough credit either. We don’t take a play off because of him. He’s a great coach.
QUESTION: Terry, you’ve had a few great halves. You’ve had a few games where — especially like Georgia Tech where you had a breakout second half, but this was a complete performance from you front to finish. Did that feel good to get that kind of confidence boost back for after the past couple months you’ve had shooting?
TERRY ROZIER: Yeah, I’m surrounded by a lot of great guys. It was just opportunities that I was provided with, and I got to step up to the challenge. I was challenged by the coaches and by the players and we just came here with a game plan. And like I said, it was just all opportunities and I just made it happen and luckily the ball went through.
QUESTION: Coach, where would you rank the last month and the fact you’re back in the Sweet 16 when maybe this wasn’t the role that you guys were usually accustomed to?
COACH PITINO: I watched every Northern Iowa tape and I think most of them make it. I’m impressed with everybody. But these guys were really impressed by Northern Iowa. We watched a double overtime at VCU which is a really difficult place to play. We watched a home victory against Wichita State, and they reminded us of Virginia who shoots the ball. So we were going to take away the three-point shot tonight and do everything in our power to do it. Then when they would drive to the basket, challenge. But what they did tonight execution-wise, you have to be very, very smart people. Montrezl, you see this guy who is just dunking and he’s very aggressive. But what you don’t realize is he’s one of the five brightest players I’ve coached. Very, very smart. He’ll say some things in our timeouts where we watched 15 films and he’s right nine out of ten times. So these guys were great at every phase of the game tonight and our respect for Northern Iowa is the reason we played so well.
QUESTION: A month ago did you envision this?
COACH PITINO: Look, you got to go through — we had a bad situation and we all — our heart bleeds for one of our teammates. But I don’t know what we expected from Quentin Snider. We didn’t expect this, to be honest with you. But Quentin’s always looking for these guys and he has no — he doesn’t get nervous at all. I thought he was maybe losing his mind throwing that lob at the end of the game under a minute, but outside of that, he’s unflappable. He doesn’t get nervous at all, he’s a cool customer, he’s always looking for him and these guys have a lot of confidence in him as well as our coaching staff, and he’s gotten a lot better defensively. So, we have had a rally around it. We have had a short bench, but I say it again, these guys, they don’t take a play off, and that’s quite unusual in today’s world.
QUESTION: Coach, the block by Wayne Blackshear?
COACH PITINO: Awesome.
QUESTION: Was that the signature play of his career?
COACH PITINO: Big key of the game. If there’s one key in the game, it was that. But what we wanted to do and it doesn’t really show up statistically because we just talked about staying aggressive on offense, moving the basketball, going north and south. If we throw it into Montrezl, they’re going to double him. Get to your spots. But the great thing, we kept staying aggressive. If you look at the first half obviously we shoot 52 percent, but the second half you can see, well, you didn’t shoot as well. Yes, we did because we kept going to the foul line. We kept driving, getting to the free-throw line. And that’s what we wanted to do is go downhill on them, go downhill and make them guard us. And these guys executed it to perfection. We held them to two assists in the first half. Five seniors, great passing team. That’s an awesome stat to have.
QUESTION: Rick, you got some very important minutes from Jaylen Johnson and David Levitch and Shaqquan. The end of the first half you put them in. You really didn’t miss a beat and had the lead at half. How big were they? And second thing, just your flow shooting this post-season has been great?
COACH PITINO: You can see Montrezl’s follow through, how slow his release is. Every one he took tonight I thought was going in. Terry has become a great free throw shooter. You know when we put those guys in, Jaylen is having great practices and Jaylen is very lucky, he has to go against an All-American every single day, and so when he goes out there, he’s not going to face anybody in the likes of Montrezl. And Montrezl never takes it easy on him. So, he’s improved dramatically because of it. And then David Levitch is one of our best passers. I mean, Terry knew if he went back door he was going to get it from Levitch because he’s an excellent passer. These guys have a lot of confidence in him. Wayne scored his thousand point, Wayne’s part of history of these four Sweet 16s, and just look at his resume. It’s incredible. These guys are now going to another Sweet 16. And the great thing about being in a place like Louisville is you’re just not satisfied, you have an insatiable desire to keep moving on, and I know these guys do.
QUESTION: Montrezl, you guys, you and Mangok in particular, did a really impressive job on Seth Tuttle tonight. How did you — he still had 14 points, but how did you make things a little more difficult for him?
MONTREZL HARRELL: We made him work all night. We didn’t let him see anything easy. Everytime he caught the ball. It was either 15 feet away from the basket or we were making sure that he wasn’t getting just no easy catches in the post. Every time he caught the ball, we tried to make sure that we had a body on him. When he went to his move, we have watched a lot of tape and we know he likes to counter and spin back. So we studied the film and we knew everything that he really wanted to do when he caught the ball. We also know he’s a great passer, but we had to make sure that we didn’t let him get any easy touches because if he gets any easy touches — he was looking at for being Player of the Year. So we had to make sure that he didn’t see anything easy tonight.
QUESTION: Terry and Montrezl, you talked about the two alley-oops a couple times, but it felt like those came at really key times and took some air out of Northern Iowa. Did you feel like that at the time and did it feel like more than two points when you got those at those times?
TERRY ROZIER: You said just two points?
QUESTION: Two alley-oops.
TERRY ROZIER: Oh, no, it was more, it was definitely more than just two points. It’s a confidence booster for all of us, we all get pumped after he dunks the ball. That’s just a connection that we and him have. It definitely makes us play harder after he gets dunks like that. Any type of dunk he gets but especially an alley-oop. It just feels good. So that’s all I can say about that.
MONTREZL HARRELL: I would say it was a key point in the game. They were making their run and starting to come back so when Terry threw that up, I tried to make sure I finished it. The other one ended up becoming an and-one, so I felt it did take the air out of them. But it’s always one of those big type of plays that you would love to have because it gets your team pumped up and gets you ready to go down there and know that you have to sit down on the defensive end and you have to get a stop. So it’s always one of those plays that gets our team rallied around each other, and we know that we’re going to get a stop on the defensive end.