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Rick Pitino previews Notre Dame

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Opening Statement

Well at times the season has gone by quick and other times slow, and it seems like the last month has really gone by in the snap of a finger. Now we're faced with two really difficult games to get to a double bye. Our fate is in our hands. We've got two very, very difficult teams to go against. One team is, percentage wise, the best offensive team in the country. The other is the best, or one of the premier defensive teams in the country. So certainly we have our full, but I think our guys are up to the challenge. We've gotta do a lot of things well to have any chance of beating either one of those teams.

On how having a style opposite of Notre Dame's affects the game

I wish I knew that answer. I hope it plays out in our favor.

This has kind of been an amazing year. Of all the teams that I've coached, I'm sort of amazed at our basketball team's fortitude, because really we don't have one shooter on the team. Not one. And that's really an amazing thing. Now we have a lot of guys who can score, but we've always had at least one or two shooters on the team. This is a team void of one, and I've never had that in 40 years of coaching. I've had teams that didn't shoot the ball that well, but there was always one or two guys that could knock it down.

It speaks volumes for the type of heart these guys have. To make comebacks, fight for every possession. The good thing is we can score, because any time you move the ball and pass like we did in the last game, you can score. We've shown it in the last game, against Indiana early in the season; the more ball movement, the better scorers we have.

But in today's world of Pack Line defenses and packing it in, you've gotta have guys that can knock it down. So it's been an amazing feat for these guys, I'm real proud of them. But as we round out the season, we've got to be meticulous, not only in our preparation, but in the way we attack teams. I've got a lot of confident that these guys are up for the challenge.

On what they have to do to meet the challenge

Well every team has to be attacked differently. The obvious thing is, if you looked at the way we attacked Virginia in the first half of the last game, you'd say "well they didn't prepare for that game at all." Then if you looked at the way we attacked in the second half, you'd say, "man that's the way you've gotta attack Virginia." So every team has to be attacked differently.

Notre Dame will switch a great deal. We expect they're going to make a lot of changed to their defense, because they've had eight days to prepare. So it becomes a little bit of a chess match, and what your team has to realize is that every game can't be played the same way. You've got two teams coming in here this week that are so different that it hits the point I'm talking about perfectly. And that's the way it is in the NCAA Tournament, or the ACC Tournament. You could play against one team on Thursday and then play against a totally different style the next day.

How important is the double bye?

I just think it's a distinction that here you are amongst one of the conference elites. Getting it I think is important. It's important for seeding. Our goal is to be a 3 seed. I think we can get there, and that would be remarkable.

How would you get there?

Well, winning these two and then going far in the tournament. I think if we sweet the board we'll be a 2 seed, but I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. Obviously we have lofty goals, but that's what we've created here. When you have three 30 win seasons, that's what you look forward to.

On why all the overtime games with Notre Dame happen

They're never out of it because they shoot it so great. We've shot it well against them also. They've been exciting games, great for the fans. I don't necessarily think Saturday's game will be exciting for the fans, unless you like rock fights. But they've always been exciting games, and certainly we appreciate their style, and we have great camaraderie. It's a nice rivalry, it's a friendly rivalry that we look forward to.

Is Notre Dame different than everyone else you play?

Well this team is different because this is the best defensive backcourt they've had. They've had some good backcourts, but this is a team that can put plenty of pressure on you, has plenty of athleticism, has terrific size, can take you off the bounce, they shoot it at 4 positions, they can switch at all 4 positions, they cut real well, they pass real well, and of course, based on their shooting percentages, they're No. 1 in the country per possession. So we have a great defensive challenge that lies ahead. Guys like Quentin Snider and Chinanu, when they see all those cuts, they're gonna think they have two heads on their shoulders.

On Jerian Grant

He's also a great steal guy. He's driving more. When he goes left he looks to pass more, and when he goes right he looks to score more. He's a great player, one of the premier guards in the country. We recruited (Demetrius) Jackson, so we know what he can do. He does it all, he's one of the better players in the nation.

On the offense being different with Quentin running it

I don't think it's Quentin. I think it's the other people stepping up. I don't think Quentin had a very good game against Florida State, to be honest with you. He didn't play particularly well in that game, so i don't think it has a whole lot to do with Quentin. People like to say that, but if you look at the film, it doesn't bear out. I think it's the ball movement by Terry and Montrezl and all the guys understanding who they are and how they can shoot a high percentage. The less ball movement, the lower the percentage, the lower they'll score. More ball movement, more player movement, the higher the percentage and the more easy buckets they'll get.

Is that something they're just now getting?

We drill it every single day. That's the key to our success, because if you're not a great shooting team, you need movement.

Is it an adjustment for Terry to play with Quentin?

I don't think so. At all.

How much do you look at Notre Dame's blowout loss to Duke in scouting?

I don't think it helps you prepare, but you do watch it. You have to watch it because maybe there are certain things that Duke did in that game that we can utilize. But I think it was just one of those nights where one team had everything going right and the other team had everything going wrong. But you watch every game they play. We even go back to two years ago when we played them, just to see their tendencies.

On Wayne coming around

Well I basically stop play in practice every time he catches the ball on a reverse pass and he doesn't drive or close out. He gets tired of me, and I say, "Why didn't you drive there? They were closing out on you and there was no double team." So he's getting in the habit of knowing what I want in terms of driving close outs. I don't want him driving baseline, I want him driving middle. He's starting to pick it up now. He's still not where I want him, but he's starting to pick it up much better.

Why has Wayne been reluctant to drive in the past?

I think he's become a much better ballhandler this year than other times. I don't think he could go left very well, and now he goes left very well. He worked very hard this summer on his ballhandling. He's got great size. He scored every which way last game. And that's what you want to see him do, not just rely on open jump shots. That's what I keep telling Anton Gill. I said it can't be feast or famine, you've gotta do other things instead of just knock down the shot. Now I'm very happy he was knocking down the shot because we needed it, but you've gotta do other things. You've gotta play good defense, you've gotta pass, you've gotta grab rebounds.

On the importance of Anton stepping up

Well I think our guys have confidence passing him the ball. The good thing about Anton is he's not shy, at all. None of these guys are shy. The only one you've got to prod a little bit to shoot more at times is Wayne. If he misses a couple of shots sometimes he doesn't want to shoot anymore, and I keep staying on him and saying "man, you've gotta stay offensively hungry and aggressive." But everybody else is not shy at all.

Has Gill shot like that all year in practice?

He's been streaky. We have a team that shoots at a small rim. Like Steph Curry, he's got a high arc and it comes down. A lot of shooting coaches they'll take a ladder, get up on the ladder then look down at the rim and say "that's a perfect shot." And so a guy like Steph Curry, you know, shoots at the whole rim, or at least 90 percent of it. The reason we're not better shooters is we don't at a big rim.

Guys like Quentin and Wayne at times and Terry at times shoot with arc, but not Steph Curry arc. The only one who does that, and he has bad balance and hand placement, is Shaqquan. He shoots at a big rim, Dillon Avare shoots at a big rim, the rest of them shoot at a small rim, and that's why they're not knock down shooters. But their form is good. Wayne's got great form, even though sometimes he looks at the ball when he shoots free-throws, Terry's got good form, Quentin's got good form, but they shoot at small rim. The gun, the machine with the net, helps a lot. That forces them to shoot at a bigger rim, that's what the machine is made for. So that's what we're striving for with them: get lift, get more arc.

The guys, you know -- well I can't talk about the young man. We're looking for that in young players right now. We feel like we can teach defense, we can teach the system, we can teach all that, but shooting today -- people always want to know why the scoring has gone down. Yes, we do need a 30 second shot clock. Yes, the defenses have gotten much better. But the reason is there are very few shooters anymore, you know, great, knockdown shooters. Like the young man from Kentucky, the freshman, Booker -- he's a great knockdown shooter. And those young men are not easy to find today, so what we're looking for right now is, we want guys that shoot at a big rim. And look at it. We can work on the other facets of the game.

Is Chinanu working on underhanded free-throws?

That's all he's working on during practice and individual instructions.

How is it?

Well he'll shoot just as well as he does overhand, but thats 40-something percent.

Was it tough to get him to do that?

No, he liked it right away. It fits the structure of his hands, and if you work at it -- and he's watched the tapes of Barry -- if you work at it, you'll get good. Because it's not spinning the ball at the rim, it's shooting the ball at the rim. It's not gonna happen this year, but by the end of the summer we're going to have him shooting in the high 60s underhanded.

So if he gets fouled now is that the way he's going to shoot it?

Not this year. I don't think he's quite ready for that. Now if he starts making 8 out of 10 in practice, you'll definitely see it. I think you're more likely to see substitutions.