Ralph Willard comments after win over Hartford

Ralph Willard
AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Ralph Willard met with the media in place of Rick Pitino after the 87-52 win over Hartford on Tuesday night. Here is the video as well as the transcript of Willard’s comments.

(Opening Statement) “Nice to be here after a good victory. Couple of things: going into this game, this was a team that shot the three very well. They had made nine threes in their past two games. They were shooting 39 percent from the three point line. Going into this week, we had two teams that were very similar in terms of their ability to shoot the basketball. North Florida on Saturday has made 17 threes in each game they’ve played this year. It was a point of emphasis coming in, we did a pretty good job of that. 3‐17 for Hartford from the three.

The thing we weren’t pleased about at halftime was the fact that we got beat off the dribble more than we had in the Samford game. Coach made a big point about that in terms of tightening it up. He set a goal for our guys in terms of field goal percentage defense. He wanted to get them under 35 percent ‐ we accomplished that. Seven turnovers, very important of course. Cutting down on our turnovers has been a big point of emphasis in the last three weeks. All in all, pretty pleased. Big guys did a good job getting the ball inside. Obviously we had a size advantage on them, but we did a good job of recognizing that and getting the ball inside. All in all, step forward, especially in the second half and especially in preparation for North Florida.”

(How much has Chinanu Onuaku changed from when you first got here in the summer until now?) “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s doing a lot of little things. His screens have gotten a lot better. His rebounding, in terms of pursuing the basketball has gotten a lot better. Obviously his offensive moves are getting better and will continue to get better as he gains more and more confidence. His attitude has been great. Coach made a point after the last game that his attitude has been off the charts in terms of his cheering for his teammates, rooting his teammates on, not worrying about his stats, his time. That’s  the kind of attitude you need on a team going forward into the season and certainly into the ACC.”

(How much of it is confidence now that he can do it?) “I think a lot of it has to do with confidence, but the confidence has to do with hard work. That’s how you get your confidence and that’s what he’s done since the summer, right on through the fall, right on through the start of the season. He’s worked extremely hard in individual instruction. He’s worked on his moves, he’s worked on his rebounds and block outs and I think when you work real hard you get confidence in yourself.”

(How much has shooting better from the three been emphasized this year as a opposed to last year?) “That’s another area where everyone on the team has worked extremely hard in terms of shooting the ball off the dribble and more importantly off the pass because that is how we want to get the three-point shot off of the pass, especially the inside out pass. I wasn’t here last year, but I watched a lot of games and outside shooting was obviously a weak point, but I don’t think it will be a weak point going forward. I think our guys have learned when to take it and how to set it up, which are the two most important things.”

(On the improved offense) “I think what I attribute it to is guys learning to play with each other. Because everybody is playing totally different roles than what they did last year. Quentin Snider is probably the closest, obviously because he played the point at the end of the season last year. But they are learning to play with each other. In the beginning, as everybody here saw, Q and Trey [Lewis] didn’t play well together. Now they are getting comfortable with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They are playing off those, and as a consequence you could say that for everybody. Our team is learning to play with each other. It’s still not a finished product by any means, but certainly we are making good progress. We have to continue to make good progress.”

(On the signs a team is becoming more comfortable with one another) “Well just in terms of making plays with each other for one thing. Second off, talking to each other after plays. Whether plays are a good result or a bad result, they are talking to each other and discussing it. They’re saying “Hey I’ll get you next time on the backdoor. You had a backdoor opportunity there. I’ll get it to you.” In terms of the post‐up, in terms of the big guys “Hey I missed you on that one. I’ll get you next time you run down the floor. I’ll get you the basketball in the lane.” All that stuff adds to an understanding of how to play together with the personnel that you’re playing with.”

(On the performance of Chinanu Onuaku) “Yeah and the thing that we’re really happy about, I know that Rick [Pitino] is real happy about, is that he’s dominating in other ways. He’s blocking shots. He’s pursuing the basketball on rebounds. In other words, he’s not rebounding just in his area, he’s rebounding out of his area. That’s a big, big, important factor for us. Our big guys have to rebound out of their area. The next step we make is the guards rebounding. Chinanu [Onuaku] has worked extremely hard. He needs to continue to work hard, and I think he will see continued development as the year goes on.”

(On who the best rebounding guard on the team is) “We haven’t figured that out yet, unfortunately. Rick was real… that was a sore point with him at the end of last game. The big guys were killing themselves. They were blocking shots. They were rebounding the basketball, and the guards weren’t coming in to help finish the play. Obviously, as you get in to league play that becomes more and more important because the bigs basically battle each other and nullify each other and the guards have to come in there and get the rebound. That’s what Terry Rozier was so important for last year’s team, in that he’d give you six‐seven rebounds a game. We have to start getting that from our guards.”

(On the play progress of Jaylen Johnson) “His progress is great. His attitude is great. Jaylen [Johnson] gives you a lot of energy, a lot of movement on the floor. He has good timing on his rebounds, especially his offensive rebounds he has really good timing. Again, another guy that is continuing to get comfortable in the role he is playing. Last year was limited minutes, and this year those minutes are increasing, and they’ll continue to increase as long as his play keeps developing. Obviously, rebounding and blocking shots are a big part of him, not as much blocking shots, but rebounding the basketball.”

(On the increased comfort of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis)  “I think it’s just learning to play with each other. And they had to learn their roles. They came from two teams where they played totally different roles than what they’re playing here. They both had to learn how to be facilitators and Damion had to learn how to be a driver as well as a shot‐maker. Rick’s been stressing that with him. Trey is learning how to play the pure point position in that, yes, he’s a scoring point, but also he’s got to learn how to check people up and make simple, smart plays, which he’s doing.”

(On Louisville’s next opponent, North Florida) “You make 17 threes in two straight games, and I looked at their box score for the last game, everybody’s 3‐for‐5, 2‐for‐4, 4‐for‐6 from three. So you’re going to have to guard every single position. They have five guys who can shoot the basketball. We’re going to have to guard everyone. This team (Hartford) had four, that’s why it was a really good game for us to play. Like I said, this team had made nine and nine. Seventeen is a whole another category. They’re probably leading the nation in 3‐point shooting. It’ll be a real test.”

(On the advantages of having shot‐blockers) “That’s huge. That’s a huge advantage, and that’s something that Coach stressed from the beginning of the year. He stressed that we have to block shots. The defense’s job is to funnel the people into the shot‐blockers. The shot‐blockers job are to change or block the shots. And then the guards are supposed to come and finish the play off, which is the last piece to the puzzle.”

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