THE MODERATOR: We’re going to start with an opening statement from Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, and we’ll direct the questions please to the student-athletes and then they can be excused and we’ll have some more time for with the coach.
COACH PITINO: We did a lot of great things tonight at the defensive end. We set a deflection record for our basketball team. We broke it with the Villanova in the Big East tournament with 58. Tonight we had 32 from our backcourt, which I’ve never had since I’ve been coaching in 35 years, pro or college. We had Russ with 16, Peyton with 16. I’ve never seen that before and we finished the game with 67.
That being said, with special performance by these two guys, but Russ who listened very intently to the scouting report, was 10 for 16, didn’t take a bad shot, three assists, eight steals, but came up lame without a rebound (laughter). So we’re very disappointed in that. We’re going to do drills in the ballroom with Russ rebounding tonight, but both of these guys had a great game and Russ is a really special player. He said he was like a blender tonight, just moved around and move around.
North Carolina is much better than their performance. They just ran against another trapping team that had more length, more size, more quickness, and they played — if we played like a St. Louis or Colorado State or anybody like that, you wouldn’t have seen it. We ran into the right opponent in the first game. They had a fabulous season.
THE MODERATOR: We have questions now for student-athletes Russ Smith and Stephen Van Treese.
Q. Russ, a lot of times teams come into the tournament and they feel like they haven’t been — they always says they’re not respected, haven’t been given enough props. You’re figured as the No. 1 seed in the whole thing. Is that something you relish, something you wanted to see and were after when the bracket came out?
RUSS SMITH: Not really, to be for real. I was just moreso just looking at who we’re going to play and getting ready to suit up, and that’s the big thing. I’m now, the second half of the season, the Coach has been on me about scouting reports, and that’s the only thing I was waiting for was the scouting report, what do I have to do to contribute to the team. What’s the team goals? What do we have to do to get to the next round? That’s it. We just take one game at a time.
Q. Russ, some people say defense wins championships. Do you embrace that? Just talk about your metamorphosis in that area from when you weren’t so much this way.
RUSS SMITH: If I didn’t play defense, I wouldn’t have been on the court. Dating back the my freshman year and sophomore year, that was something I had to evolve into and Coach telling me there’s some things I can get better at. We all know what defense can do. It got us to the Final Four last year. So we just stay solid and just keeping playing our defense, hopefully good things can happen.
Q. Russ and Stephan, how important was it just to kind of set a even tone? You saw Gonzaga had a tough game, Pittsburgh lost, Marquette struggled. How important was it to come out and set a tone in the first game for the rest of the tournament?
RUSS SMITH: We all knew this game was going to be tough watching the film, these guys play really hard and press and make it an uptempo game. As far as wearing the other team out, at the same time, they’re doing the same to us. It was a really up-and-down game and just to go out there and get a win in the first round is all we cared about, survive and advance.
Q. For either of you, I know Louisville is only 60 minutes away, but you go into Rupp Arena and it’s filled with red. What did that make you feel like? What was your reaction to that? How much did it help you guys on the court?
STEPHEN VAN TREESE: It was definitely different. Every time I’ve been here, it’s filled with blue and hardly any red. Tons of fans here. It was awesome. I mean, definitely I feel like it helped our intensity especially early in the game, Russ and Peyton, they had so many deflections it was ridiculous. They played great and I feel like the fans really helped us.
THE MODERATOR: Russ, did you want to add anything?
RUSS SMITH: What Van Treese said. Coming in here into Rupp, the last time I was in here the field was blue. Tonight I want to thank all the fans for coming out and supporting us. We got off the a slow start. Thanks to them, we were able to pull through.
Q. When there was a dunk by Chane in the first half, there was I moment when everybody, all of you, had a good laugh. Just the thoughts about that. It seemed to reveal a lot about how close you guys are, the affection you have, and frankly, just came from the locker room, these guys were already teeing off on Chane, they’re talking about it. Just your thoughts what does it say about your relationship?
RUSS SMITH: Nobody expected Chane to miss that dunk. Normally if somebody else was on the break and there was a guying running, I hustle behind because maybe I get a little scrap point. I didn’t expect to miss that. Thank God we got it back. It was really funny. I remember I did it last year, I thought we played in. I got some talk from my teammates, too. It was just super funny.
STEPHEN VAN TREESE: I expect that more out of me than Chance. I didn’t see that coming.
THE MODERATOR: All right. If that’s it for the student-athletes, you guys are excused. Thank you very much. Congratulations on the victory.
We’ll continue with questions for Coach Pitino.
Q. Coach, first of all, the goal, your goals tonight for steals and deflections, can you just talk about so many deflections. How many — I don’t know the guys were saying 60-something.
COACH PITINO: 67, 32 from the backcourt. We made it a big goal to get 15 steals in the game. We felt they were a trapping team. We thought it would be a chaotic game by both teams. We wanted to protect the ball. Russ thought we got off the a slow start. I was pretty pleased with the start. You know, the way Peyton and Russ played defense tonight was amazing, because they kept moving their feet and staying in the plane without reaching in, into the other person’s plane. I thought that was an amazing defensive effort by the backcourt. Russ just had an awesome game.
Q. Coach, you kind of chuckled there when Russ said you guys had a slow start.
COACH PITINO: He doesn’t know — he’s working so hard, he has no idea what the score is, what’s going on.
Q. How does that make you feel to hear your players talk so cerebrally about —
COACH PITINO: I think Russ has really grown from someone who just wants to score all the time to a good passer. In his freshman year, he made no attempt to play defense, and he’s gone from that to one of the premiere defensive players in the country who now we told him, Russ, do not drive sideline one time and he didn’t.
He was really, really good tonight mentally as well as physically. He truly has arrived into a great basketball player. Now we got to get him to settle down because he’s going to play against a much — Colorado State team wins, it will be much different than anything we’ve seen. If Missouri — we’ve played them before, it will be more of an up-and-down game.
Q. You guys are kind of chuckling about the game. Right before you guys took the court, Gonzaga had some trouble with Southern. How difficult is it to not start looking ahead and get your guys to realize that, yeah, there might be 16 but you still have to take them seriously?
COACH PITINO: This is going to sound crazy. It’s the only game in the tournament when I was at Kentucky, as well as Louisville, I hate the first round game when you’re a 1 seed, because normally you guys get a little tight, say we’re 1 seed, uh-oh, we could lose this game, and you start playing not to lose rather than to win.
I felt very good about this game because the opponent we were playing is a trapping, running team, so I felt good about the matchup. North Carolina A&T is a well-coached team and well-drilled team. They ran into a similar style tonight that was bigger, more talented. So I felt good about that. So sometimes you get the wrong opponent as a 16th. We just got the right opponent.
THE MODERATOR: One or two more for Coach Pitino.
Q. Coach, how much do you talk about, you always talk did about here deflections, deflection, deflection. How much do you talk about that in practice? How much do you work on that?
COACH PITINO: We work on it quite a bit because we don’t have — we have a very good scoring team, but we’re not a 3-point shooting team, and this year we have set a record for deflections like nothing I’ve seen. I’ve never seen 32 from a backcourt in my life. We want 35 for the game and you get 32 from the backcourt.
By the way, they only played 25 and — 25 and 26 minutes. That’s even more amazing. But that being said, it’s just one game against a trapping, running team, and, you know, we came in here last time and blew the doors off of Stanford and lost to Texas A&M. It’s only one game. We’ll put it behind us. We’ll get ready for whoever wins this next game.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions for the Coach? All right. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
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