Rick Pitino post-Samford press conference

Photo: YouTube.com
Photo: YouTube.com

Coach Pitino’s press conference after the Cards defeated Samford 86-45 on Friday night at the KFC Yum! Center.

OPENING STATEMENT: We made some stark improvements from last week to this week. I am really, really happy with our defense and offense. We threw a lot of nice bounce passes. We knew we were going to play against a team that doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, so we really wanted to do a good job of choking the lane, guarding the paint, and blocking the right shots. We were good on the break, defense was good, offense was good. Now, we are going to play a team Tuesday that is the direct opposite. They are going to shoot a lot of threes, and we are going to have to guard the line. Overall, very pleased, did a lot of really, really good things tonight. I don’t know what was better, offense or defense; both were really good.”

Q: Is that about as well as Donovan Mitchell can play at this very early stage of his career?

PITINO: I did not think he was that spectacular to be honest with you. Now, he did play well obviously, but I thought the whole team played well. I think because he didn’t try to force things, he let the game come to him is one of the reasons he played well. These freshmen are all really good and they are going to have their nights. He didn’t even play that many minutes, what was it 18 or 19? Seventeen (minutes), three steals, as well.

Q: What about the improved offensive play of Chinanu Onuaku?

PITINO: “I told the guys after the game, I said if I had to pick something I was really pleased with was his attitude. I was going to put him in with three fouls. He already has two fouls and he said, ‘Don’t worry about playing me, let the other guys play.’ That was not Nanu last year; he has really matured and has really played well. He did a good job switching and containing the basketball.”

Q: How much does it help you that you can basically switch everything and contend on every screen and shot?

PITINO: Especially against a small, driving team – that’s what impressed me. We are a pretty good shot-blocking team. I thought we were very smart tonight. The way we played tonight, one of the things I found out, I told you guys last game – these guys are young, so they get a little nervous in front of the bright lights, if you press in the beginning of the game, it gets rid of their jitters and they get into the flow and score easy buckets. It helps us a little bit, not that we have to stay with it, but it helps us.

Q: After a rough week of practice, were these guys challenged a little bit?

PITINO: When did I say that? I don’t remember. Practice was actually pretty good this week. I’m pretty sure I just said that I’m nervous about it. The guys are practicing really well. We haven’t really had too many bad practices the whole year. We are just trying to work on new things. We worked very hard on our press this week, which we haven’t worked too much on. We’ve been
working hard on our man-to-man and we still haven’t even put in our zone yet.

Q: What about the defensive performance? You had a couple of stretches of holding them scoreless for four or five minutes.

PITINO: The important thing is that when we switch, we go down the lane, down the lane, down the lane, and then block it at the end: that was good. The only weakness we did, and you can see it, is two things and they are calling it right away, is illegal screens – they are looking for that call. I’m not sure Anas’ was
an illegal screen or not. The other thing is any bumping in the backcourt is a foul, so we have to keep moving their feet because they were shooting a very low percentage and they got a lot of offensive rebounds for their missed shots, and then they were 12-for-12 from the line in the first half, so we have to be careful of that.

Q: You had 19 assists on 30 made baskets. Is this a better passing team?

PITINO: Well, passing has been our biggest weakness. The more bounce passes you throw, the better of a team you are going to be and we threw a lot of bounce passes tonight. Now, with that being said, this team plays a lot of match-up zone and tries to confuse you and we finally got them to play a little bit of man at the end. I thought we attacked very intelligently against their press. Trey did an excellent job of clearing them out and looking up the floor. Although passing hasn’t been our greatest skill, they are very willing to pass the basketball. I know they will get better because they really work at it.

Q: The freshmen seemed to play relaxed, or with freedom. Is that fair to say?

PITINO: It’s very tough because they’re trying to learn, and I met with Donovan (Mitchell) the other day and I said, ‘Donovan, just play. You’re going to make mistakes.’ I said, ‘You haven’t made a tenth of the mistakes that Peyton Siva or Russ Smith made. Just play. Don’t worry about it. Just get out there and
play and don’t worry. You’re going to make mistakes. The good thing is we’ve got shot-blockers to cover for your
mistakes. He did that tonight.

Q: You lost Damion Lee to foul trouble after just a few minutes in the first half, but how happy were you to see the team go on and play well?

PITINO: It was good. What he has to learn is, the two fouls that he had, I don’t think either one was really a good foul. So if you play with your hands up on defense in the press, what they do is they run into you and then they tangle you up, and then the defense always gets the call. So, you’ve got to look to play a bit lower. But that’s a good sign. But Deng Adel is a hell of a basketball player. I know his numbers don’t look like that. But you’re going to see freshmen this year. You’re going to see Deng’s going to have a great night and then the next night he’s not, Donovan’s going to have a great night, like he did tonight, and then the next he’s not. And then Ray (Spalding), believe it or not, has the most talent, but physically, at 210 pounds, he just needs strength training more than anything else.”

Q: Onuaku blocked five shots while committing only two fouls. That has to make you happy.

PITINO: You know, he’s really matured. You don’t realize sometimes, he came in here at 16 years of age. He turned 17 in November. So he’s been really, really young. You look at him and you think, obviously, he’s a man, because of his size. But he’s really young. He’s matured. I think the experience of playing with the under-18 national team and winning the gold medal really helped him. He’s really a good basketball player, because, like Montrezl Harrell, he’s the smartest guy on the team. Nanu really understands the game very well. He’ll get after these guys defensively when they make a mistake. For a sophomore to understand the game the way that he does speaks volumes. He’s going to keep getting better and better and better. He’s a very good passer, too, for a big man.

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