Rick Pitino, Russ Smith And Luke Hancock Speak After Houston Win

Andy Lyons

Via the AAC website

COACH PITINO: We weren't sharp defensively tonight and when you're not sharp defensively, you need a great offensive performance and certainly we got that from Russ, he was brilliant, penetrating, passing, getting in the lane shooting the ball. He's done it all his senior year with everything that you could possibly ask of a basketball player in terms of - just you know he deserves to be the - I think he's made four or five first team college All-Americans, you saw why tonight.

A great story a skinny, scrawny kid from Brooklyn to a big, strong, tough, 42-point scorer is an amazing performance.

Q. Rick, Russ had 42 tonight and the school record is 45. Were you aware of that when you pulled him out?

COACH PITINO: I was aware afterwards but, really, it's more important that he doesn't get hurt and we have a chance, than records. He sort of has enough records right now, and if he did get to 45 he would never pass the ball the rest of the year so it's a good thing he didn't get the record.

Q. Russ, I know you did some interning and broadcasting. If you were a reporter what would you ask yourself and what would your answer be?

RUSS SMITH: I would ask myself, what did I eat before the game, or how did the court feel, how did I feel in warm-up and I would say I had a good breakfast this morning, I had a pretty good pre-game meal, I took a nice nap and that turned out to be good and as far as the warm-up line that was great, the rims looked good and I had a little bounce in my step.

COACH PITINO: (Snoring noise)

Q. What did you eat?

RUSS SMITH: Wow I ate a lot. From pasta to chicken, to corn, to asparagus.

Q. Coach, somewhat difficult to answer but if you could, a primer for tomorrow if it's Cincinnati, if it's UConn, how it stacks up for you?

COACH PITINO: You know two very different teams, one great defensive team, one great offensive team. One has more offensive weapons, the other has - they've a young man that can kill you from the foul line using screens, so
two different teams, both outstanding. You know, I have my feeling who is going to win, but I'm not going to say. It will be an exciting time. You know, we didn't play great defense tonight for the first time in a long time. We didn't get our defensive numbers but offensively we were brilliant in passing the basketball and looking for each other and he was just unbelievable.

Q. Russ, this time a year ago you were deliberating whether you were going to go pro, you made a difficult decision. Have you had any second thoughts about that? Having gone through this, becoming an All-American and having another shot at the Final Four what's your perspective on that decision now?

RUSS SMITH: Honestly, it never was about, you know, just being nervous about coming back. It was more so was it the right decision at the time, last year. Because I didn't want to make a bad decision and come back. But as far as my game itself, my teammates, the love was there. I was always going to put the work in. I go to the gym every night and whatever I need to improve on and Coach insists on I try to do it.

As far as a player I have tremendous confidence in myself to get better. Returning back for my senior year I wasn't nervous about performing because I knew I could perform, and I'm really happy with the decision I made. I've made a lot of connections, I got a chance to intern, I got a chance to do football games and just be a college student for the final time, hangout with my teammates, finish the year out with my guys I came in with, finish the year out with Coach P. And plus meet new freshman, Terry and Anton, they're great guys and I'm happy I returned for my senior year.

Q. Coach, are you surprised that this game got away from Houston the way it did considering your team had your way with them during the season and because of the upset?

COACH PITINO: I thought Houston had a very good game plane they pushed the pace before we could set up our pressure. Guys like Luke and Russ are very clever basketball players, even Russ stole a page out of Luke tonight with a ball fake and a shot and made all three free throws. They're very smart basketball team, great defensively, but Houston - we're playing very good basketball right now, our last four games have been terrific so we're playing very good basketball and we've had an outstanding February, playing well in March and that's what you wanna do. We know we will have our hands full tomorrow with either opponent.

The great thing about these guys is they play every team with great respect and that's why they haven't been upset this year because the teams they lost to are all good opponents and they play Houston as if they're UCLA. They play Rutgers as if they're Kentucky. That's a great quality to have, great quality.

Q. Luke, you've seen Russ a lot throughout your career. I'm curious how you would describe the performance tonight. As well as you guys are playing how much fun is it to be on the court with the style of ball you guys play?

LUKE HANCOCK: You can't describe Russ's game, it's "Russdiculous". The way he moves and the way he gets to the places he does on the floor and the shots he gets for himself and for his teammates is unbelievable. Being able to play with a guy like that makes my job easier, makes our team run smoother. Sometimes he does some crazy things and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but that's Russ, we love his game.

It's nice to be on a roll a little bit right now. We know, like Coach said, we're looking at every team like they're one of the best in the country and we need to win. We're trying to be hungry and preparing for everybody like they're the best.

Q. Talk about during the run in the first half you had, like, three offensive rebounds off missed free-throws, I think you guys got 8 points off that?

COACH PITINO: Believe it or not, we probably have worked harder on that in the past two weeks than any other fundamental in the game. We have a technique we're using, and Luke got two of them, somebody else got 1.

LUKE HANCOCK: It was 3, I had 3.

COACH PITINO: Excuse me. We worked very hard at that and we're excited about it. You know, the other thing that you look at with these guys is how much they're willing to pass to each other. That's what makes a good offensive basketball team because we have a high assist total. Since I've been at Louisville I can't tell you the - I think it is, but nobody has told me for the points scored the lowest total of turnovers I've had as a Coach in terms of the points we're generating so that's good passing, very good fundamentals by the guys. We don't turn it over very much.

And Ralph Willard who really talked me into taking Russ said this the other day, and I had an argument with him, he said "Russ will be a much better pro than a college player" and I wasn't arguing he wasn't going to be a good pro, I said, "Ralph how can he - he's having a first-team All-American season, how is that possible?" And he said I'm telling you, he's a scout for OKC, "Russ Smith is going to be a great pro because he's unguardable, and now he's learned to pass, he finds open people." Senior night he decided because he was playing strictly to point he was going to get his teammates shots and had 13 assists. He's a great steal person. He plays with an upbeat attitude all the time.

I don't know if Ralph is going to be right because I don't know if you could have a better senior year or better career than Russ Smith has had.

Q. Coach, fourth consecutive conference tournament championship game what are your thoughts?

COACH PITINO: We're excited about it. We talk about it all season long, about winning the regular season, winning the conference tournament and going on for a successful postseason.

It's very important to us. When you play for a championship, you need to do everything humanly possible to get it and the guys are preparing to get it. We know we're going to go against, either UConn or Cincinnati, two great teams, been ranked all year. We have our hands full but I have a lot of confidence that our guys - this championship is very important to them.

Q. Coach, as far as preparing for the postseason, whether it's this tournament or the next one, does title defense become a part of your Lexicon when you're talking to these guys or is last year forgotten?

COACH PITINO: It's a different team but I tell them, look at how much fun we had last year and we want to experience that again. I know they're going to give me extraordinary effort but like anything else, anything can happen in this tournament. We passed the "eye" test in terms of the way the guys are playing, we pass the eye test. If I watch Wisconsin or Florida or Michigan, they all pass the eye test. There are so many teams this year that pass that eye test that are really, really good. It's going to be a fun tournament. There will be some 1 seeds, but I don't think you can - between 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds I don't think you're going to find too much difference in any of them.

Q. Russ, you passed three places on the Louisville all-time scoring list tonight. You're now No. 5. How do you think you will be regarded? What is your legacy?

RUSS SMITH: When I first came to school, Coach P used to always say that to the guys, what is going to be your legacy here? I took that as a challenge, not individually but as far as team work. I wanted to win as much games as possible. I wanted to get a championship. I never experienced that in high school, not in AAU, I never played an intricate role on a team that won a championship. So I made it a personal goal to play a role on a championship team and I have succeeded in many ways and I'm just thankful that I play for a coach that has a hunger and drive to win that you won't find nowhere else. I'm thankful for my teammates because they buy into the system. When you buy into a system that's been successful, you're going to always be successful. I personally took that challenge to buy into a system, listen, pay attention and get better as a player so

I'm extremely happy where I'm at.

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