THE MODERATOR: All right, ladies and gentlemen, we have Louisville with us. We’ll ask the head coach to give an open sustainings. We have Wayne Blackshear and Russ Smith with us. We’ll be able to dismiss them a little bit earlier and continue with the coach.
Coach, go ahead, thanks.
COACH PITINO: I think one of the reasons we played one our best games of the season is how much we — how much respect and focus we had for Colorado State. We really thought, and I thought these guys haven’t been around as long as me, is this was the toughest second round opponent that I’ve ever coached. I thought this was a great basketball team. They pass great, they cut great. Obviously the number one rebounding team in the country. They shoot it great with range, and he’s one of the most underrated coaches in our game. I mean, those of us who know him, and I’ve competed against him before, know he’s an outstanding coach. We’ve beat a great team tonight.
We probably can’t play any better, but I think it was all due to the fact of the amount of respect we had for them. Because we made it a goal tonight that our press had — more than anything else, I said our press can’t be what it was the other night with all those traps. Our press had to be a fatigue factor and it also — our ball containment was the key because that’s the way they rebound. They drive by you, they force you to help and then overpower you with rebounding.
Our guys were magnificent tonight. Wayne had by far one of his best defensive games. And Russ, what can I say? I said to the young lady outside who is doing the game, I said Coach Curran is smiling right now. He’s so proud of Russ Smith. He’s gone from a very good scorer to a great basketball player at both ends of the floor, and I’m not sure I would ever thought when I recruited him I could say that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. We’ll open it up for questions for Wayne Blackshear and Russ Smith.
Q. Russ, what is it about Rupp Arena for you? I think 27 points a game in three games here.
RUSS SMITH: Oh, man, I really don’t know, and I just play hard no matter what venue I’m at, and some venues you just get lucky and shots go in, but I’m not — I won’t give the credit to Rupp Arena.
I work really hard. Lot of the games here that I did play here were big games, you know, we had Kentucky here awhile ago, that was a big game, the first round the opener of the NCAA Tournament, and now this game. And for big games, I like to really prepare myself and try and have a good game.
Q. Were you aware of the “Russ Arena” twitter account that came up and the chant of “Russ Arena” as you were making those last free throws.
RUSS SMITH: Somebody told me yesterday in the media thing that this is Russ Arena or something. I actually didn’t hear the chant, and I didn’t really know too much of it. And I kind of lost — I lost track of it during the game, once the game started. There has been people telling me. I’m not going to act like nobody said anything, but I was aware of it.
Q. Question for Russ, you guys are just all over the court with your press. Can you describe the energy level you have, how you’re able to keep it up and how tired you guys are after a game?
RUSS SMITH: Well, if Coach is not tired, then we can’t be tired. We get all our energy and fearlessness from Coach. He drives us every day, and, you know, we let him down, we feel like we’re letting all of us down, each other, the whole Louisville, our staff and trainers. We just go out there, play with tremendous effort and that will come from our coach.
THE MODERATOR: Wayne, do you have anything to add to that?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: We’re used to it. We do it every day in practice. We’re used to guarding each other in that type of style of play. We just get out there every day.
Q. Russ, could you do you feel Coach Curran smiling on you?
RUSS SMITH: Man, I feel it all over, and every time before a game I go out there and say, Coach wants me to do all the right things. Coach Curran and Coach P, those guys have been a great influence in my life, and in high school I just remember Coach telling me, when you get to this level, you have to really focus because you have trouble focusing, and Coach P has done a tremendous job with me.
Q. For each player, what is it like, what do you see in the other team when the press is working? What — how would you characterize what’s happened, what you see happening to them?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: Well, you know, we start to see a lot of fatigue in them and we feed off of that, and by us playing that type of style, it just give us more energy and just want to get out there even more.
RUSS SMITH: What I see is, I’ve seen a lot of things, I mean, from being down 17 and pressing going off. I’ve seen teams come back, and when teams get tired, all I see is just them trying to not get tired and make a run and I try to dig in some more. Because I know if they’re tired and exhausted, they’re going to try and fight through to do whatever they can to win and I have to — I feel like it’s my duty, along with the team’s duty, to all get together and make sure that that doesn’t happen, keep the pressure on and just keep rolling. We don’t want to relax when we’re pressuring.
Q. Either player, Coach Pitino just said that you’ve just played the best you can play. Do you take that as a challenge? Can you really play better next week?
RUSS SMITH: I do whatever I can on the court, you know, and sometimes it’s not of the best, but I give an A effort. The only thing I can do is give an A effort out there. If things happen where I overmatch this effort, then it will happen.
But from this point on, all I do is just try to play hard and do whatever I can for our team to get a victory. I’ve learned since being at the University of Louisville nothing matters but winning and when you win, you become a winner. So winning has been the only thing that’s been driving me to play well.
THE MODERATOR: Wayne, anything to add?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: Just going off of what Russ said. We just get after it. Whatever Coach tell us to do, we take it on as a challenge. Like tonight we knew they was the best rebounding team in the country. We wanted to take on that challenge as a team, and as you see it on the stat sheet, everybody chipped in today, three, four rebounds, it was from everybody.
Q. Coach, how important has Stephan Van Treese been to not only the team’s recent success but Gorgui’s success?
COACH PITINO: I think ever since we started playing Stephan Van Treese we’ve grown immensely as a basketball team. I think I told you a month ago I don’t think I was doing a good job with Gorgui, although he had better stats but he wasn’t as well rested to play. In yesterday’s practice, I didn’t even have Gorgui practice. I had him do some conditioning and post moves and just have Stephan Van Treese and Zach play. These guys are not only superbly conditioned, a lot of time you see it, you see these guys working so hard, where sometimes where it’s most noticeable, like the steals were a little off tonight, we had 13, but where it’s most noticed is on the other team’s free throws.
We’ve seen some great free throw shooting teams shoot way below their percentage. One of the things we’re excited about tonight, we told our guys the fact that Colt Iverson is having to come up every time like that, for a big guy that takes a lot out of you and it gets him not as sharp on the back boards. So obviously that helps us a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Quickly, anything further for either Russ or Wayne first of all? Anything else for the student-athletes? All right. Thanks guys. Congratulations.
We’ll continue with Coach Pitino and start back over here.
Q. Coach, you mentioned that maybe you guys can’t play any better. Do you believe that?
COACH PITINO: We can play much better, but I said this was the best we have played so far because at both ends of the floor. I mean, we can — there’s definitely things, like Kevin Ware played great tonight, he really did, five assists, no turnovers. We held them — the reason they are such a great rebounding team is they constantly create a lot of motion, then they beat you off the bounce, they force you to help, and then you’ve got guards trying to rebound against bigs.
We did a great job tonight of getting them to the baseline and containing them and the what we call closing down the window. It took their offensive rebounding out of play. I mean, y’all know what a great rebounder Hornung is. He averages 9.2 rebounds a game. He had one tonight.
We not only did a great job of ball containment, we were brilliant in all phases of the game. Steals were 11-0. We out rebounded the best rebounding team in the country. We held them to four assists, and most important thing is we contested every shot. We ran our offense great. But we can definitely get better and improve.
But this is the best we have played, because I thought they were a great team. I mean, our whole staff, we’re a positive staff, but you could just see in it all our face is. We were sick about this game, we really were. We thought they were great. Then when we had the lead at halftime, we watched last night New Mexico State at New Mexico State and Pitt, they were down 18 and took them to overtime. The press had a lot of merits tonight in terms of fatigue.
Q. Coach, you often talk about deflections. It’s not an official statistic, but I hear you and other coaches citing it. Could you talk about why it’s so meaningful, why it tells the story of your team, and if there’s anything to the technique to it beyond just aggressiveness and energy?
COACH PITINO: Every Coach has a thing that they look at. Many years ago, 1985 I worked for — I had two years of being with one of the greatest basketball minds, it felt like it was ten years working with him, ten years of knowledge, that is, Hubie Brown. And I had — I started it at Boston University, a deflection chart. Hubie is a stat man. He loved it. He said put in it and do it.
I started keeping it in the pro game at that time at that time, if you got 35 deflections, you’re going to win 95 percent of your games if they don’t shoot an inordinate number of 3s and make them. Then we did it in college, and we have shattered all of that, like tonight we had 45. The other night we had — I’ve had — my Kentucky teams that were great in ’96 and ’97 didn’t get this amount of deflections.
We may not have the pros that those teams had, but our intensity is incredible. That is the basis, it’s a barometer for measuring pressure on the basketball. What it is, is five categories: One is just having active hands and getting a piece of ball; two is steal; three is a back tip; four is a loose ball recovery; and five is a blocked shot.
It measures the pressure on your basketball. Oftentimes, especially in the pros, if you have 8 to 10 deflections — I’ll never forget this as long as I live because we had Bernard King and some great players on the Knicks. I was working for Hubie. I only had like small window of time at halftime. I put the deflections and we only had 8 deflections at halftime. We were down 18.
What I did was, I didn’t want to because I was a young guy and I was hanging out with the players at that time. Back then we would — coaches would hang with the players. I put on the board Ray Williams, two deflections, Louis Orr, 3 deflections and it added up to 8. So just to show our guys, but I only put the ones positives, like six guys had none.
So I went and said, all right, guys, we got to do a better job now, now we only got 8 deflections. Here are the guys that have their deflections now, let’s pick it up.
That went on to the next thing. I hear this booming voice in the back of the room. Wait a second, where the F are the other guys? He started killing everybody that didn’t have a deflection. From that point on, I started laughing because everybody at that point didn’t want their name on that board with a deflection because Hubie said, put every name on the board. I want to see who has the deflection at halftime.
From that point on, it was a true measurement of pressure on the basketball and a funny moment for me.
Q. Kevin Ware seems to really give you guys a spark off the bench, especially late in the year. What kind of impact has he had to add to your depth?
COACH PITINO: We moved him to point in practice. We were playing Tim Henderson at the point. Every since we moved him at the point, he has improved immensely even though he’ll play 2 and 1, but I’ve seen his growth tremendously as soon as we started playing him at the point, more confident with pick and rolls, more confident creating passes. He had five assists; and no turnovers.
He, like Van Treese and Montrezl Harrell, those are three pretty darn good guys coming in off the bench. Not to mention the fact that he’s every bit as good on defense and rebounding as the other guys.
Q. Two questions for you: One, have you ramped up the defensive pressure more as this season has gone along; and, two, what moved you to hug Russ Smith after the pass to Siva?
COACH PITINO: I’m so proud of that young man. I told him, Russ, we have a lot in common. I said I averaged 32 points a game in high school and you averaged 32 points a game in high school. Both of our teams were 15 and 13 and never did anything. So, you scored a lot of points, I scored a lot of points, and we were basically not winners. I said, so when you come here, you’ve got to learn to guard, you’ve got to learn to score, make people better, but, more important, you and I got to become winners because we didn’t win in high school.
He looked at me and said, yeah, Coach, I really do want to win. Then I said you got to learn how to be a basketball player at both ends. His freshman year he was a nervous breakdown waiting to happen for any coach, assistant, and head coach. And then his sophomore year you could see him growing and maturing and getting better and points weren’t the focal point of his life.
I can tell you, he knew all about Russ Arena. I can tell you that right now. He’s also gained humility. I don’t think — I’ve been proud of a lot of guys at BU, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. I don’t think I could be any more proud of a young man. He wouldn’t play a stitch of defense, wouldn’t pass the ball, didn’t really understand the game, and he’s grown to I think right now top three players in all of college basketball, and I think y’all sitting here would not be surprised by that statement.
Q. This stage of your career when you see a team go out and play like that, particularly on the journey you’re on this month, how satisfying is that? How meaningful? Is it a little different than maybe it used to be?
COACH PITINO: It is, because I think I mentioned this the other day, three years ago I said, you know what, I’m coaching four individual instructions every morning, 42 minutes and getting a workout at lunch. I coached eight years in the pros. You know what, maybe it’s time to move on.
It’s been nice, been great career, really appreciate, it and I’m going out to Seattle taking red eyes back in recruiting. Don’t get sick over this. I coached a team that got knocked out in the first round. I had so much fun. I had a blast. I heard Larry talking about his kids. These guys have driven me to have so much fun like Russ right after the game, he grabs me and says, Coach, I don’t know if you noticed at the end of game, did you see me shaking with the ball and very many people could guard me, very few people could guard me?
I said, no, I really wasn’t focused in on that, Russ. When did that happen?
He said, oh, you missed it, Coach.
He has just a naive way about him and all the guys, Peyton Siva, the last three years, hell, I don’t want to have step away. If I can keep recruiting guys like this, I want to coach until 70 and beyond because I’ve had such a blast and to see guys work that hard inside just fills you up, really does. That’s not easy to do what they do. I don’t think in my best day as an athlete I could have done half of what these guys do in the course of a game. So, it’s really amazing what they do on the court.
Q. Coach, your goals are still out there so probably not the best time to be reflective, but Coach Eustachy said this was one of the best teams he’s ever gone up against. Would you consider this one of the best teams you’ve ever had?
COACH PITINO: I don’t think from a talent standpoint it may not even be in my top five. But in terms of execution, intensity, a will to win, it’s up there. You know, I don’t think this is going to be who’s who in the lottery draft, but that’s not why we play the game. We don’t play the game for the lottery draft. We play the game for Louisville and then our guys move on and they’re very successful people in and out of basketball.
I have a young man, Tavo Placio, unbelievable kid, unbelievable player for us. Played in the Final Four. Over there making great money over in Spain. He’s bilingual, two passports. That’s what we’re all about. We stayed up all night for three nights watching film. Our respect level for Colorado State is off the charts. That was as good a second round game as I’ve seen. Only one other time did it rival that we you had played Tom Davis at Iowa and reminded me of this, but we had great respect for them.
Q. Coach, you mentioned that Russ is one of the top three players in the country. Of the All American teams that have been announced so far, he hasn’t made the first or second team. Do you have any sense of why he’s so underappreciated Nationally?
COACH PITINO: Well, I don’t pick the team. I’m just telling you my opinion. I could see how he couldn’t make a team because — you really have to see him. You see him now and you really have a great appreciation for the way he plays defensively, the way — just think of the conditioning of this young man. He picks up full court, he’s always looking for a steal, off the ball he’s denying, then he’s running pick and rolls, then he’s cutting, then he’s scoring. You know what type of shape you have to be in to play like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith do?
So I don’t think it’s any slight to Russ. I just think he’s a great basketball player. I’m fortunate enough to coach him. He’s going to be a really good NBA player because defensively and offensively with a 24-second clock and what I call today an 18-second shot clock, that’s what the pros are all about, a guy like Russ Smith is really hell.
Q. Coach, you guys are a team that focuses a lot on the ball pressure and your defense, and tonight your offense was really clicking. Obviously you got the 27 from Russ smith. When the offense is clicking like this and you put up an 82-point performance, is there any other team in the country that can beat you guys?
COACH PITINO: Yeah, there’s a lot of teams. St. Louis, Oregon. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. Look, you looked — I was kidding with my son who — Richard who coaches at FIU. I said, Georgetown is in for a war tomorrow with Florida Gulf Coast. They’re a very good basketball team.
He said, I know that.
That’s Florida Gulf Coast. I don’t know how long they’ve had a basketball program. They just beat Georgetown.
So, we could get beat by anybody in the country, we really could. But like tonight we focused very hard on their defense and how we can score. Like on a pick and rolls, they go under. So we set every pick and roll a good body on the low side and then rolled so we could get a foul line jump shot. We ran our offense to get a back screen pick and roll. We did a lot of great things on offense. Our guys are really focused, and if you’re really focused, you have a chance of winning with what we have.
But, I’ve been in this game a long time. Any given night somebody can get — look, we thought we had the same type of team, not as talented physically, three years ago and Preston Auls broke his foot. So anything can happen in a ballgame, certainly, and we’re getting down now to the Sweet 16 and you’ll have 16 great teams. Y’all see how strong the Atlantic 10 is and none of us would have said that going into it, but look at this. I mean Atlantic 10 is one of the premiere conferences in basketball.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions?
COACH PITINO: Will be for another week until football breaks it all up again.
Q. Coach, how do you get your team conditioned that well? Is there some secret?
COACH PITINO: Well, one of the things you can’t do is, you can’t tire them out. So, we have it systematically where we start out practicing, we have our 42 minutes of individual instruction and by the end of the year, that goes to 28. Our practices go from 220, 225, to an hour 45. We don’t break in practice. The most we break, even for correction, is 20 seconds. So we’re always competing.
We don’t — it’s counterproductive for a well-conditioned team to wear their legs out and, and I’m very conscious of that. I did that to all my BU teams, and not until I coached in the pros did I realize how important it was to have fresh legs and I learned a lot from the NBA, good and bad.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve got time for one or two more.
Q. Coach, you said before the game that you didn’t necessarily want to play Colorado State in this game because it was kind of a bad matchup, and now looking ahead to Oregon and St. Louis, is there either one of those that you would rather face?
COACH PITINO: Well, if St. Louis wins, it really helped us for the St. Louis game. They’re also extremely well coached and they play great basketball. For the Oregon, there’s more up and down like Missouri. So, it prepared us, but either way we’re going the play a great team.
We all know that Oregon was probably — you know, lot of people say, oh, they were miss-seeded. That’s after the fact, after they’re playing great. Nobody said they were seeded incorrectly before they played a game. They just pointed out who they lost to. It’s very easy all those experts on TV to say it now, you know, but — so the seeding did a great job and the people did a great job, because they just look at data. Then somebody comes ups and say, boy, LaSalle did deserve to make it, yeah, after they beat some people, it’s easy to say that. That’s why hindsight is 20/20.
THE MODERATOR: We have one over here.
Q. Coach I saw Brad Stevens come out to congratulate you. What did that mean to you?
COACH PITINO: I love Brad. I think he’s one of the classiest young people in our game. Also one of the great young coaches in our game. They’re a lot of great ones. Lot of Larry Eustachys out there, not that he’s young, he’s not young, but lot of great coaches out there that don’t get talked about quite often.
But Brad is as good as it gets at any age. He could be 50 today and he would be great. Fortunately for him, he’s not. There’s a lot of young great coaches out there. You know, you saw Florida Gulf Coast, Andy. Somebody said to me the other day, Georgetown got knocked out again. I can tell you this: It just happens. There’s not rhyme or reason.
John Thompson III is as good a basketball coach as I’ve gone against in my lifetime. I remember them saying that about Lute Olsen back in the early years, he was losing to Santa Clara or somebody in first and second rounds. Then all of a sudden, he wins the national championship and he’s going far.
It just happens. You get on these cycles up and down and it happens. He may go to three straight Elites 8 he and two Final Fours. Everything happens in cycles for some reason. There’s a lot of great coaches out there, but if you’re like Larry and me and get those high character guys that play so hard every night, then you consider yourself a lucky man.
THE MODERATOR: One more question.
Q. Rick, what does it say to you about this team that the only team that’s come within double digits of you since the Notre Dame five overtime game was the game at Syracuse. Everything else has been ten or more points?
COACH PITINO: Well, we learned a lot from that five overtime loss. We watched the whole game, and I said, guys, you broke down mentally. You took bad shots. They made some incredible shots, but you weren’t exactly up on them. I said, so take this loss and make it a goal that you’re going to win the next seven. But learn from it. If you don’t learn — we rather learn our mistakes through winning, but we lost of that five overtime, we gave Notre Dame the credit, and then I said, let’s win our 7, let’s win other Big East and move forward, and let’s just not make the same mistake again.
So, I think they’re extremely focused on the scouting report. If you ask me what’s been the biggest improvement in the second half of the season to this basketball team, is how much they pay attention to the strengths and weakness he’s their opposition.
Our team was ready to play Colorado State because of the amount of respect they had for every guy at every position. I put a challenge to them, look, the press may not get the steals and traps tonight, can you out rebound them? Can you out rebound them? Can you create more than ten steals against a team that only turns it over ten times? And they just lifted themselves up to the occasion and got the job done. Unique bunch of young men.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
COACH PITINO: Thank you.
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