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Louisville Head Coach Chris Mack
(Opening Statement) “Well it was a grinder of a game. I thought we were creating some really good looks on the offensive end. It’s hard, Teske sits right in the middle of the lane and never moves. He’s huge, but I thought we got some of our better pull up players like Jordan (Nwora), Ryan (McMahon), Darius (Perry). I thought we got some looks that we’d take. Steven (Enoch) sort of broke the ice and hit a couple face ups and that helped. But I think the story of the game was just our defensive effort from the beginning of the game all the way through. We probably played 38-and-a-half minutes of as good of defense as we could play outside of the first minute to start the second half. We played a really good team, I’m sure they’re a little bit tired. Three games in three days in the Caribbean is not easy and we feel very fortunate and we’ll move on to an ACC opponent on Friday night. We have a quick turnaround. We don’t have an off day. We can’t feel like we’ve been crowned at all. It’s a long season and we’ve got to grow from this.
(Big night from Jordan Nwora, what was his impact?) “Well, I loved seeing how he rebounded the ball on both ends of the floor. To have three guys in double figures and I’m used to Dwayne (Sutton), Steven (Enoch) I’m used to this year as well. Sometimes there’s not enough rebounds to go around but we played such good defense. They missed a ton of shots. We didn’t give them a lot of second opportunities, except for a couple of big kids around the rim. It’s hard to keep off sometimes. Jordan is a talented guy. I thought he played on both ends of the floor. To only have one turnover and have the ball in his hands a lot. He missed some shots he normally makes but he also sealed the deal on a couple, an and one. I come to expect that.”
(Did you think this was Enoch’s best offensive game of the year?) “It had to be. It had to be and it’s not so much on his guy as it is just trying to help our on ball defender with those thousands of ball screens they set. I felt like Zavier (Simpson) was slipping all over the place, losing his dribble a little bit. I didn’t see that on tape, and he’s a guy that we have a ton of respect for. Both Steven (Enoch) and Malik (Williams) did an outstanding job of keeping him, for the most part, out of the lane.
(They’re averaging like 81 points a game 42% from three. They didn’t come close either one of those marks. What was the focus of your defense tonight?)”Well I think it starts with Zavier (Simpson), and the deeper he gets in the lane, the more puts your off ball defenders in a bind. How much do I help in? In the Bahamas, he’d just get in the lane and spray it out. (Isaiah) Livers and (Eli) Brooks, they couldn’t miss. So all we talked about was keeping him out of the lane, and then hard closeouts. Hands are up early. I really didn’t think they generated a whole lot of good looks, and for our defense to do that to what I think is a very tough team to defend with the way they’re shooting the ball and (Jon) Teske coming along on the interior as well as outside, our defense grew up a little bit tonight.”
(The atmosphere for an early December game was pretty intense Can you kind of sense how hungry this fan base for this season?) “Yeah, I can sense how hungry our team is in the locker room. We knew it’d be a big game. Our guys hear the noise. They hear we haven’t played anybody, whatever our schedule’s ranked. They have a belief in themselves. I am happy for our fan base. They’ve gone through hell and back and for them to be able to enjoy nights like this, with the three guys honored at halftime. Yeah, it makes me happy.”
(Fighting over top of all those ball screens that Michigan was setting, just how important was that going back to your defensive plan?)”It’s huge and it’s hard, and he’s very quick. He’ll reject a lot of ball screens. He will act like he’s using it, and then drive the space and kick. Teams have tried to go under and Zavier (Simpson) is so clever. He just plays peekaboo and figures out which side you’re trying to catch him on and then he goes down the lane with that Kareem hook. That responsibility fell on our point guard defensively and also fell on our five man. Those are the primary guys that are involved and it might not have been perfect but we were damn close.”
(What was the key to shutting down all the other actions off of ball screens?) “Well I think it’s not equated to a quarterback in the pocket, if he has time. If there’s not a lot of pressure on the ball handler in those screening actions, you have to be disruptive. We have to use our size, both with the five on the defensive point guard so that you can zone up with the other three defenders. You’ve got to help cover (Jon) Teske rolling. They’ve got to identify where the shooters are. A good safety or linebacker can play two receivers, because they don’t just pick one, and that’s what you need on off-the-ball defense when the ball screen occurs, and they set so many of them it’s constantly changing, so I give our guys a lot of credit for locking in on the game plan, but most importantly executing it.”
(In the second half, they went a little bit of a run but it seemed like you guys found an answer. Jordan specifically needed a couple other guys getting to the hoop. Was there something that you saw or was that open all night?) “I wouldn’t say it was open, but we certainly made a concerted effort to ball screen with (Jon) Teske’s man. We do it one way. They do it the other. Teske, when we set a ball screen with our five, he’s 10 feet off and if you can set a clean one, then the ball handler can be patient, which is hard because our guys are conditioned. They’re always getting jumped in practice so they want to leave a little early. If you’re patient and you come off of it, and your on ball defenders are getting picked off by the five, there’s nobody between you and the hoop. He’s 10 feet away and you have a pull up. They tried to get a little bit more aggressive in the second half and a couple times we turned the corner got all the way to the basket.”
(You talked about players hearing the noise about the schedule, how does that fuel them?) “You probably have to ask them. I didn’t make it some rallying cry too much. I think beyond the schedule, this team lost eight of the last 10 a year ago and this team didn’t. That’s why we identify. That was team 105. Their time is up. Christen Cunningham is no longer here. This group of guys has worked really hard and they want to put their mark on this season. I thought we took a positive step tonight.”
(Earlier in the game when neither team was shooting very well it seemed, what lifted you guys to get some second chance points) “Well we always want to run. We always want to push the pace and attack. But you can’t do that if you’re constantly taking the ball out of the net. I told our team repeatedly in the first seven games we haven’t been as good as we need to be. We’re going to have nights where we can’t score for four or five minutes. We didn’t start the game, three or four possessions where he had a good look, you’re playing a very disciplined team that blocks out, you can’t get a second shot and if you can’t defend you aren’t going to allow yourself to stay in the game. I was happy with the way that we won tonight because it wasn’t because Ryan (McMahon) went 7-for-8 from three, and Jordan couldn’t be stopped. We did it because we were resilient on the defensive end whether we were making our shots or missing them.”
(You kind of alluded to this, your team shot super well as you prepared for this game. Is this the game expected to happen?) “I don’t know what I expected. I expected Michigan to be very tough to score against because (Jon) Teske sits in the lane. I expected us to have those 10, 12-foot pull ups that stat guys now would say that’s not a great shot. That’s what I expected. I didn’t know if they’d go in or not. I expected it to be a very tough challenge to keep (Zavier) Simpson out of the lane, but my expectations aren’t driven on the results. I just know what’s going to happen and we’ve got to figure out a way to get the ball and put it in. If we miss a shot, then defend it on the other end.”
(Do you expect your family to give you a little more respect as number one now?) “No, I’m still dad to them. I appreciate the question.”
(What was your overall takeaway of Juwan Howard as a coach?) “I think I stand by what I said in the press conference, you may not have been here, but I just think the humility that he has to hire a guy like Phil Martelli, a lot of coaches wouldn’t do that. Feeling like they’re getting second guessed. You’ve got a guy that has been through the wars and coached a ton of games. Obviously, if you last in the league as a player for 20 years, you have high character because they weed the jerks out. You have to have a mind for the game because your body breaks down as I know even though I never played in the league. You can see the respect level with his players. They play hard for him. They’ve got good talent, some guys that were role players a year ago and have really stepped up and become even better players. So, he’s doing a lot right.”