Rick Pitino Previews Sweet 16 Game Against NC State


A good 25 minutes of a Rick Pitino press conference. He talks NC State, “morons” that call into sports talk radio shows, and has a lot of laughter. Good stuff.

Video available here

Opening statement

Well, we’re obviously excited to be in the Sweet 16. We took a day off yesterday because a West Coast trip knocks a lot out of you. So today I’m sure we’ll have a little bit of a sluggish practice trying to get our feet back, but I think the adrenalin is going to be very high and we’re looking forward to playing another ACC basketball game, and we know how good NC State is because they beat us by 8-10 points at home. Not too many teams do that and they did it. We also realize they’ve won 8 out of 10, their frontcourt’s playing extremely well and their backcourt’s playing outstanding and they’ve beaten some pretty damn good teams on their court. We know it will be a hard-fought game, it’s not only an outstanding team we’re playing, but there’s a lot at stake.

On the Northern Iowa game

It was the best offensive and defensive execution combined. We’ve had some great defensive games, we’ve had some great offensive games. Indiana in the Garden was as good offensively as it gets. Defensively, we’ve played some terrific games, but this was the best in all three phases — the best focused on the game plan, the best offensive and defensive execution. (Looking at the film), it was better than I thought.

Has the team reached their potential?

I thought they’ve played up to their potential the whole year, I really have. I think that we’ve had a lot of roadblocks in terms of youth, in terms of little problems, in terms of things changing. But we’ve had a very young team that the older guys lost their patience with and now they’ve developed patience, which has really helped our chemistry.

On how losing their patience manifested itself

It’s tough enough to have two, three or four freshmen, but when you have six, they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re poor focus-wise, they’re poor defensively. It just takes time for them to learn. Like Jaylen Johnson, it’s taken a lot of time, but he’s going to be a very good basketball player some day. Just constant mistakes. If you’re being corrected 40 times a practice, the other guys are saying, ‘Damn, come on, can we play some ball?’

On how different that is from past years

This has been the toughest one of them all. Because it’s not only the mental aspects, but a lot of these guys–like Shaqquan Aaron still hasn’t gained a pound. He’s been here a year now, he came in at 167, he’s at 180, but from December to now we have not been able to get an ounce on him. So it’s not only the mental part, it’s the physical part. Jaylen Johnson just got in shape about two weeks ago where he’s not going to tire at a practice and you see much better things there when you see guys get into great shape.

On taking challenged shots against Northern Iowa

Lowest of the season. We were 2-of-4. Against NC State we were 0-for-9. We have been 8% on the year. If you have under five (challenged shots), you’re playing good offense. And a lot of times, I’ve said this many times, the second half what we want to do more than anything is get our paint touches and get to the foul line and a lot of times when you see a lower percentage in the second half, they say you’re in a little bit of a drought. When people say you’re in a drought, it’s really not true if you’re getting to the line, because if you’re getting to the line and you’re making your free throws that’s positive. So that’s good offense when you go to the line and make your free throws.

On what happened the first time vs. NC State

The challenged shots bothered me and their lack of rebounding bothered me. But more than anything else, you’ve got to give them credit. They just dominated us in a lot of phases of the game.

On if they count challenged shots when a guy is fouled

No. We count it as a positive if he gets fouled. But we’re talking about like a guy has his leg kicking out or a guy is challenging a shot, that’s when you should ball fake and go by the guy and we were brilliant in the last game. We just kept driving and dishing, driving and dishing and what that does is sets up offensive rebounds for you.

On if the “lose and go home” aspect of the tournament has helped the freshmen

The only thing I conveyed to them was there’s a past, a present and a future. The past is what you were, the present is where you are now, and the future is where you’re going to be. And the tournament makes the future for all of us. I made them understand, I thought they had a good season, I thought they played up to their potential and now if they get better they can have a great season and that’s the only message I gave them. Freshmen have a right to develop. Quentin was thrown into the fire, but he’s responded in a great way.

I know as a basketball player myself, if you’re going into the game for 3-4-5 minutes and you know you’re just giving the guy (starter) a rest, so you really can’t get into the flow of things because you know you’re coming out. The only function in there is togive the guy a rest. So now his function is to be a good basketball player and show what he can do.

On Quentin Snider

He’s getting better defensively, he sees things very well, he comes off and sees things, he’s good on the break and he’s fearless. Now he’s got himself a hell of an assignment, he’s got to try and contain Cat Barber. Our other guards couldn’t do it. We got beat mostly by Barber with our forwards getting beat where he’s penetrate, say the sideline, and we’re in a trap situation, they got beat a lot.

More on Snider

I think he’s getting more lift on his jump shot; that’s the thing we’ve worked on the most with him. Yeah, I think he’s a very good basketball player. Now he’s not endowed with a great wingspan or Peyton Siva-type speed, but he’s very clever and he understands the game. The next hurdle for us is to try and get him to verbablize a little bit more.

On the differences in UofL since the first NC State game

I think we realize certain things defensively. We’ve pointed it out to them where and how we get beat. I think we’re much smarter the last month than we’ve been. I think that’s why we’ve become a better basketball team. I think we constantly got beat because we were in the wrong place and I had to give up on certain things. It really helped us practicing the week after the (ACC) tournament. We weren’t on the clock because we were on spring vacation, so we could really spend time teaching what we wanted to teach.

How the defense has improved

Just everybody’s understanding where their position is on the court and they understand they have to talk in order to make the thing work.

On NC State using the same plan vs. Louisville

They’ll make some changes. They’ll see our weaknesses and make some changes. We were winning in that game and bad shots led to our demise as well as poor ball containment. So it was a close, hard-fought game and then we took bad shots. And we allowed them to get paint touches. And they’re a very good offensive rebounding team; they can kill you on the offensive glass.

On what impresses him about NC State

They can score at every position, they’re fours and fives are very physical, they’re a deep basketball team. What impresses you is who they’ve beaten. They’re capable on any given night of beating anybody. If you don’t play great defense, you’ll have a long night against them.

On how NC State defends the interior

They’re very physical, very athletic. Very physical. You’re not going to find a more athletic team and they’re very fast.

On reaching a fourth consecutive Sweet 16

Well, I think this year was a rebuilding of, not necessarily players, but of culture. I think next year will be a rebuilding of everything. But that doesn’t mean. . .when people hear rebuilding, they say. ‘oh no.’ Rebuilding doesn’t have to be over years. You rebuild sometimes in weeks. So we had to get this team to the point where they’re executing well. When you take sometimes 12 challenged shots, you’re not going to win, especially this basketball team. So it’s just a matter where the parts are moving together as one defensively and offensively just getting the guys to take high-percentage shots. And they’re doing a good job. Even though we lost to Carolina, we’re playing very good basketball, executing very well.

On if this one is more satisfying

I just look at it as another tournament that I’m super excited about. The thing that pleases me the most personally is that I’m probably more excited than I’ve ever been in an NCAA Tournament because it gets more and more exciting every year. And there’s so many. . .it’s almost cruel sometimes the path it takes. I’ll give you an example. Looking on television, I thought the two best chemistries in college basketball in terms of guys being together were Villanova and Virginia. They were extremely well-coached, they had guys that were so tuned in every single night where they never let down and then it’s a cruel game, they’re out of the tournament and they seemed to be the most together teams, their chemistry, body language, all of that. Their execution was awesome the whole year. Both won their regular season, Villanova won both and that can be the cruel turn it takes. And I’m sure you could say the same about Iowa State and some other teams. It can be a cruel tournament as well as it can be magical for the Georgia States of the world, those moments, and Valparaisos of the past is what makes it so great.

With Virginia and Villanova out now, how is the path to the Final Four?

The one thing I think everybody makes the mistake of saying, this or that path is the easiest, because most of the time it’s just the opposite. It becomes more difficult. One thing I’ve never done is prepare for a certain team to play at this point in time. You can do it early in the bracket, but you can’t do it now. Who’s to say NC State is not as good. . .I’ve seen Oklahoma, the way they shoot the ball, I’ve seen Michigan State many times. They’re just as good as any team. It’s anybody’s ballgame now. It’s who’s gonna execute the best and all the prognosticators have been wrong. So it’s very difficult.

On people picking certain teams to win

The funniest comment I’ve ever seen somebody say was Bob Huggins’ comment, and I thought it was one of the funnest things I’ve ever read in my life. What Bob doesn’t understand is these guys (analysts on TV), you have to pick somebody. Like I was on there with Charles (Barkley) and Kenny (Smith) and they’re going go to with this team and somebody said “Can you go the other way so we’re not all in agreement?” So you know, it’s not personal.

So about Seth Davis and Doug Gottlieb, Bob (Huggins) said “I’m really going to pay attention to a guy that shot 50% from the foul line as a point guard and the other guy that played intramurals at Duke.” (laughter) I almost fell out of the bus that he had nerve to say that, but it’s what everybody picks. He said something about Jay Bilas that was hysterical also. I know, because I have been in that seat, you’ve got to pick somebody. They won’t let you take the diplomatic way out and say both teams are great. Right or wrong, the other people get upset.

On if it’s a different feeling being more of an underdog vs. being a top seed

Not really. The only time I feel stress or pressure, whichever word you want to use — I think pressure’s a good thing, stress is a bad thing, the only time I’m uneasy is the first game. I hate the first game. I just never have liked the first game. I know the players’ mindset a little bit — you’ve got to change it … Once you get by the first game, it’s just so much fun. It’s such a fun environment. We had a lot of fun in that second game.

On being out west

I thought it was great. Any time you’re around a lot of fans, you get distracted. Personally, I turn off my phone for almost 90 percent of the day now. At the end of the night, I text people back. I just shut the phone down completely. I just don’t want to be distracted. This is so important right now — you’re a game away from the Elite 8, you’re a game away from the Final Four, you’re a game away from the championship game. You’ve got to really, really hone in on it. Then after your work’s done, just relax.

On radio callers saying dismissing Chris Jones fixed UofL

I really think that people should stop calling in and showing their ignorance. I think they should just listen to all of you and stop calling. Every time they call in and say something like that, they just show their ignorance. I really don’t think they should do that. We could have blown out Irvine with Chris Jones by 15 or 20 points. Sometimes it’s just … Instead of giving all the guys credit for great execution and great play, they try to blame someone. I can guarantee the person who called in is not successful at what they do. I can guarantee he has not accomplished very much in the world of sports.

Now, you can call in and say, ‘I really think the guys are coming together. They’re executing well because Terry’s taking less bad shots and this guy’s doing this.’ Intelligent things. But right away, they come up with cynicism. That’s why you guys have to pay attention to it and I’m extremely happy I don’t have to pay attention to it.

On how U of L has improved

I just think that it’s the maturation of a few players. I think that guys are cutting down on their mistakes. That’s the key to any team that’s playing well this time of year — they’re cutting down on their mistakes. They see their mistakes on film, they realize what they’re doing and … Right now, Wayne Blackshear never gets the credit he deserves. He’s had a very good year, practice as well as games. Mangok, if you pick up a stat sheet, you say this guy can’t play. If you see him miss a layup, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, how can he miss a layup?’ But what you don’t see is all the things he does to help the basketball team win. Everybody can’t score. If he tries to score, then he takes away shots from Terry Rozier and Q and Wayne.

More on Mangok Mathiang

He just does a lot of good things defensively. He’s always in the right place. He’s always helping the right people … He fouls hard. (Laughter) His fouling is better than the layup actually.

On Richard Pitino talking to UofL before the Northern Iowa game

He just was very … he spoke more on body language and about little things. What he saying basically is, ‘I think I would cut off my right arm to be sitting where you guys are sitting right now. I miss it so much. We have got a long way to go to get Minnesota to the level you’re at right now, and I don’t think you guys realize what you have.’ I think that comes with success, when you’re in three Sweet 16s, a Final Four, a championship … You think it’s normal to be in that situation when it’s not. He was just telling them that they’d better understand where you’re at and … He did a very good job. He blasted them a little bit, but he did a very good job.

On the players rushing over to help Wayne Blackshear up after falling

Richard talked about that. He addressed that.

So the players responded?

Very well. And what he spoke about was not about basketball Xs and Os. He spoke about little things about that. He said that’s not going to make the difference in you winning or losing; that’s going to bring you closer together.

On why he thinks Wayne Blackshear is not getting the credit he deserves

Because I think it’s the clinical morons who call into the shows … It’s not people like you. So who is it? Look, there’s going to be …. Right now, what’s President Obama’s approval rating? (46, 47 percent) … There is 53 percent of the country that doesn’t like the job he’s doing, right? So right now, people are going to call into your shows or whatever you guys have, 50 percent are going to call in and say Wayne is no good, or the reason they’re winning now is because Chris Jones is not here.

You immediately can’t wait to get that guy off the phone, and then some guys is going to call up with some intelligent stuff. And you’re going to like having a conversation with them. So, 50 percent are going to be smart comments and the other 50 percent are going to make … it’s the same thing on television. Everybody likes to listen to a good debate, a good conversation, but then you’re going to get the people that — the reason they’re calling so much is they don’t have a job. Let’s face it: They don’t have employment.

That’s why the 6 percent unemployment rate grows every day. For those of us who have family and have friends and have a life, we’re not going to do that.

On his coach of the year

Did I vote for one? (No.) I think John Calipari’s done a brilliant job. I’d put him at the top. Regular season coach of the year, there are so many guys you could put, but I think I’d give it to John. Now, at the postseason type thing, you can go with anybody. You see who shakes out. So many guys have done a great job. I think (Steve Alford) held it together and has done a great job. Obviously (Gregg Marshall) did another great job. Tony Bennett and Jay Wright, who I just mentioned, did a great job. Roy Williams has kept his team together playing good basketball. Bob Huggins has done a fabulous job with West Virginia. But I think that when you’re undefeated and nobody’s beaten you, it’s clear cut who the coach of the year is right now.

On if he’s surprised that Coach K, Jim Calhoun, Denny Crum, Billy Donovan and he have never won the USBWA national coach of the year award

You know, I don’t even know what coach of the years I’ve ever won. I’ve won some but I’m not sure which ones they are. To tell you the truth, I don’t think coaches pay too much attention to that. It’s the respect that they get from their other coaches that’s important. I don’t know who picks the one you say (basketball writers).

The writers have been overly kind to me over my 40 years, so I’ve got no complaints. If we can just get to the Elite 8, and then get on to one more game, that’s all we need here.

On the ACC having five teams in the Sweet 16

The one thing we saw in all of this is — some people said the ACC is very strong at the top, not only very strong at the top, but everybody said you could see multiple teams in the Sweet 16, in the Elite 8, in the Final Four from the ACC. I think you could see any of us make the Final Four. Obviously one of us — between NC State and us — will make the Elite 8.

On Cat Barber

He’s a great defender, probably draws the offensive foul as well as any player in basketball on the ball. He has great speed. He has great hands. He knows how to play the game. He’s very intelligent. He’s improved his jump shot.

On what happened with Cat Barber and U of L recruiting him

It’s not a big deal. We just went in a different direction, which happens in recruiting. It’s not anything major.

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