LOUISVILLE PLAYERs (Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell)
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Montrezl, when you play against a guy who is 7'6", what do you try to do and how important is it to try to get him to get fouls?
MONTREZL HARRELL: We been watching a lot of film and we know and we seen that he gets a lot of offensive foul calls with pushing off. So, we just try to make sure that we're going to get in the front early and do our work early on. We see that his condition is not nowhere near where ours is, so we're going to make him run a lot. We're a pressing team. We're going to make sure that he plays with the way we get up and down the floor.
Q. Wayne, what stands out to you about UNI when you see them on film?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: You would be surprised how well they shoot the ball. That's what we have been talking about since we got matched up with them. We know they got some great shooters on the perimeter, and we want to try to run them off the three-point line.
Q. Montrezl, looking back, your decision to come back, how have you benefited from this season and do you have any regrets about not leaving maybe when the iron was hotter last year?
MONTREZL HARRELL: No, I don't have any regrets coming back. I feel like I didn't miss an opportunity of going to the NBA; I felt like I only got better coming back with my college career. I feel like I've improved in so many different areas that I wasn't able to do last year, so I have no regrets about coming back to school.
Q. Can you elaborate on how you got better?
MONTREZL HARRELL: My ball handling has come a long ways to where it was when I first came into school. My mid-range jumper has became more consistent than what it has been. I have also been able to hit a couple of outside perimeter shots going along with the season. So I feel like I have -- my progression throughout the season has been exactly where I want it to be, and I'm only going to look to get better throughout the summer.
Q. Coach Pitino said there were some distractions just playing close to home; that it was good to get away. Can you go into is it a good thing for you guys to get that far away from the local scene and play out here?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: It's a little tricky since we have a young team and it tends to distract us a little bit. But I remember going back to my freshman year we went to the West Coast and made a run, so it's no pressure to us at all. We just want to play. So it's good that we got away. Now we're just focusing on what we have to do and to come together as a team and watch film and study our opponents.
Q. Wayne, what are the things that a player who has been through the tournament multiple times all the way to the championship game would know that a first-time player would not know?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: That's a good question. Just knowing your team's personnel. I think that's key. The past teams that we have been on, I think we really focus in on our players' tendencies and what they like to do, and we try to just take it away.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you, gentlemen. We'll start with an opening statement from Coach.
COACH PITINO: As you know, the NCAA makes you put the vodka in the cup. (Laughter.) We're excited to be here in Seattle. I haven't been back here since recruiting and then professional days, 30 years ago. Our esteemed SID here who is going in the Hall of Fame and who has been known as the premier sports information director in all of basketball who does so many different events, from the Derby to the Ryder Cup -- I'm watching all these upsets and can't quite believe what I'm watching. The Georgia State game I was blown away. Iowa State I was blown away. And he just came up to me and said, you know -- we had a great practice. We started shooting the ball well and moving the ball. And he just said, Coach, I want to let you know there's 68 teams in the tournament and you're 68th in three-point shooting.
So it's always great for your confidence as a coach going into with all the upsets, but I know what he was talking about because we really have to create a lot of movement, make sure we don't -- our Achilles Heel all season really hasn't been shooting as much as taking challenged shots. When we take will challenged shots, we don't play well. Normally, throughout the tenure at Louisville, we shot under 22 percent when someone challenges your shot. Sometimes there's a reason for it, clock's winding down. But this year we're shooting less than 8 percent with challenged shots. So it's really, really important that we move the basketball because we're playing against a team with great size.
THE MODERATOR: Take questions for Coach, please.
Q. The two upsets so far today have involved teams from Mid Major conferences against teams that aren't. I'm just wondering when it's -- when you're the favored team and when you're from one of the, quote, major conferences and you haven't played a team from a non-major conference in months, how do you prepare your team for that both in terms of play and also mentally?
COACH PITINO: You look at the Big 12, they were the No. 1 RPI conference in basketball and certainly a great conference. I think what happens, I always get the most jitters as a basketball coach after 20 times being in the tournament the first round. So what happens is you go into the game and the seed that's lower is certainly confident they're going to win, and the other team that's higher is saying -- well, I got to reverse. But the other team is saying we have got to be so fired up and so perfect in everything we do in order to keep this game close and have a chance of winning. So the emotional levels for both teams is really dramatic. You have to really be on top of your game in the first round.
I remember one time -- I don't know if it was '96 or '97 -- somebody asked me -- we were the largest favorite in the history of NCAA. I think it was 39 or 40 points. And we're playing San Jose State with Olivier St. Jean, who changed his name, and I think we were down one at halftime. And I walked in with a sick feeling. We wound up winning by 42, 43 points in the second half, but that feeling walking into the locker room at halftime, after that person asked me that question, is tough. So, it's dramatic. The emotional swing is dramatic.
Q. How much is fouling or getting fouls on Mamadou part of your game plan, or do you just assume that your conditioning will wear him down?
COACH PITINO: Well, he doesn't -- I don't think that we're too concerned about that because he doesn't play a lot of minutes. They have three centers at 7'6", 7'1", and 6'10". So they have got people to back him up. What we are concerned about is just what I talked about earlier. If you're not a great three-point shooting team, that's okay.
We haven't had a bad loss all season. The most important thing is that when you're not a great shooting team is that you defend the three. So there's not a great -- there's not great disparity with -- for years with the three-point shot all I tried to do was go, you know, it's 21 to like 6 in our favor because we're always great three-point shooting team. So now it's imperative that we defend the three. That's what we hope to do with Irvine more than anything else is defend the three.
Q. When you look back on some of the seasons you've had in the past that haven't really been what you call easy seasons where you had stuff happen, do those sometimes turn out to be more rewarding or just ones that you wish you could wad up and throw in the trash?
COACH PITINO: No, I've probably -- 90 percent of it has been totally enjoyable. There are bad breaks along the way with -- we had a bad break when my best player broke his ankle and then when I looked at the film the next day and years later see Kenneth Faried playing, I said probably not as big an upset as I thought.
But I just look at it this way. I think this is my favorite time of year. Even when I was in the pros, if you -- the one thing I missed, because I have always been more of a pro guy than a college guy, I always said that March Madness was the thing I'd missed the most, because it's just so exciting. Every facet of it is so exciting. So I thoroughly enjoy competing in the 20 NCAAs that we have been in. So many great moments, obviously, so many great players that I coached.
Q. You touched on it earlier, but the recruiting aspect that you talked about, what are your impressions of the basketball in the Seattle area? And then as a follow up, playing in this arena, the Sonics are gone but you're probably one of the bigger names to probably come through here in the past couple years. Can you talk about playing in this arena as well?
COACH PITINO: Yeah, I remember playing as the Knick coach. It was a great road trip for us. We won three out of five and we were down going into the fourth quarter I think 27 points against Portland. And we came back and I told Patrick, Mark Jackson, everybody, ice down. We're done with this game. And with five minutes to go we tied it. And I said relace yourself, get retaped, and came back and won the game. Then we went to Seattle and then we played three overtime games at Phoenix and then played the Lakers and went back home after a fifth game. I forget who. Maybe Sacramento. So Seattle has always been one of the best cities that we used to like to come to to play in as a professional team. It's been a recruiting pipeline for us as well, with Terrence Williams and Peyton Siva and now Shaqquan Aaron. So we always used this as a pipeline to Louisville.
Q. When you look back on Montrezl's decision to stay and then the year that he's had, what were some of the goals that you wanted him to hit to be ready for the NBA, and has he hit them?
COACH PITINO: Montrezl made the decision without my counsel, to be honest with you. I'm behind whatever you decide to do. And his family wanted him to go pro as a sophomore a hundred percent. He just felt that he needed another year of offensive development. He's improved his passing dramatically, his ball handling dramatically, he's always been a warrior with the way he's played. He plays every possession as if it's his last on earth. But he's always been that way. But he improved dramatically at other phases of the game, which I think is necessary going into the NBA level.
Q. Back to Seattle. What was it even before Terrence that got you plugged into the recruiting in Seattle and the Northwest in particular?
COACH PITINO: My son Richard started recruiting out here, and I found -- I was sitting in a Las Vegas hotel, and a guy came up to me and said -- another college coach, he said, I just watched someone with Michael Jordan's athleticism. And back there in Vegas there was only two gyms that you went to on the campus. And I said, Really? Who is that? He said, This kid Terrence Williams. I went to watch him, and he was -- he didn't play well at all. I saw that coach that night and I said, I didn't see any Michael Jordan in that young man. He said, Go see him again. I went through the same thing. I seen him now three times. I went to see him again, and he put on a dunking display and an athletic display the likes I haven't seen before in a long time. So I started recruiting him, sent Richard out here. And that's the genesis of it all.
Q. Is there anything you see in particular from the Seattle players different from maybe what's going on in the East Coast or Midwest?
COACH PITINO: No, not really. I think when you -- what happens with any area, and it happened to us in New York as well, anytime the players that you recruit from an area have success with a program, other young kids, Peyton Siva, when he came in, and I'll never forget this, he could be this way, but he was stretching right before practice and Peyton walked in and we gave him a big hug on his visit, and T-Will said to him, Listen you little so-and-so, don't be wasting Coach's time. Just telling tell him you're committing. And that's exactly what he did. And I said, Obviously you know Terrence very well, Peyton. He said, Yeah, I know him. And he committed. So, we were very lucky with getting Peyton Siva.
Q. I don't know if you had a full week of practice since the start of the season, but you've had a little extended practice now. What did this week do for you? Were you glad you ended up getting that time?
COACH PITINO: No, I would rather play because obviously the first time that we got knocked out so early, we played in four straight championship games in the Big East and AAC, but it was a blessing in disguise because I got a chance to rest Montrezl Harrell and I got a chance to work with Jaylen Johnson and some of the other guys. The last two weeks we have been playing very good basketball, even though we lost to Carolina. We played a good game. We just took in the final five minutes some challenged shots that led to our demise. But we have been playing good basketball probably all season. What you want as a coach more than anything else is you just want your team to play up to their potential, and then you let the chips fall where they may.
This team has played up to their potential and they have gotten better as the season has moved along. It's a very tough conference, the ACC, and obviously we played Ohio State, we played Indiana, we played Kentucky. So our guys are really looking forward to this. We were really excited when Seattle came out in the brackets. I have never seen our team so excited to go to a place. So we're excited to be away from all the drama that goes into March Madness and we can't wait to play. We know we're playing against a very good team. And obviously from what we have watched today anybody's capable of losing. And so we know we got our hands full with Irvine. And certainly if we get by that first game, it even gets harder.
Q. You touched on this, but is it almost good for your kids to see some of these upsets today just as reminder that anything can happen this week?
COACH PITINO: I think it is. We have -- I've always found that you don't get upset when you reach your defensive goals. If you reach a defensive goal, and for us it's the deflections, our steals, it's our offensive rebounding at one end, and all our defensive goals we have mapped out for this basketball game, and we feel confident if we can reach our defensive goals, we have a good chance of winning. If you don't, then obviously the upset comes into play. If it is an upset.
Q. Obviously the circumstances are different, the personnel is different, but the statistics are eerily similar to 2012 for your team entering the tournament. What can you draw on that experience? Do you tell your guys about that season and what you learned from it?
COACH PITINO: No, I really don't. They are close statistically. We probably force more turnovers and we had a great shooter in Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith was a very good shooter as well. So it's -- the statistics are similar. I don't think the teams are. I think this team has much more size. They were much better passers and shooters. So all we do is prepare. Look, the one thing that we have is terrific humility. We know that Irvine's a quality basketball team that could beat us if we don't get our defensive statistics that we put out there.
So, we're -- it is good for all teams to turn on the television and say, you know, Northeastern almost beat Notre Dame. And Iowa State, who many of the ESPN experts picked to go to the Final Four, got beat. And then obviously I'm not sure what I witnessed, just saw Baylor up 10, I got into my room and turned on the TV with no time left and all I kept hearing the announcer saying was how much Hunter is struggling. And I said, wow, I wonder what happened and what defense they played. Then he hit two shots from 10 feet behind the three-point line and then hit another one. And I said, boy, he didn't struggle at the end. His father's falling off the chair. I said, what's going on here? I wish I could have seen the whole game. But it's amazing.
March Madness is the greatest time in all sports. Because even the Super Bowl, which is I think the second greatest, it's two teams, and it's not as much drama as this. I know you enjoy it as much as I do, watching it and covering it. It's just such a great time of year. I'm really excited to be part of it.
Q. When Chris Jones was dismissed from the team, a lot of pundits wrote you guys off. How have you been able to cope with him being gone and what did you change specifically that has allowed you to continue on?
COACH PITINO: Basically what I told the guys, Chris is our best shooter, our best defensive player, our toughest guy in the back court. I said, so if you think our freshman Quentin Snider or anybody else could make up for him leaving, you're wrong. What we have to do is get more out of Montrezl, more out of Terry, more out of Wayne, more out of our 5's, and that's the only way to make up the difference in that. They have done that. And Quentin Snider's done an outstanding job. He's a lot different than Chris, like when he comes off a pick and roll, his main concern is getting Montrezl a shot, getting this guy a shot. So, we just changed a little bit with where the ball moves better. We're not quite as good defensively at that position, but we do a lot of things very well. I think that everybody said, yeah, you're right, we all have to pick it up now and play -- I used the statistic of everybody's got to be 20 percent better than they have been. I think they have.