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Everything Chris Mack said after Louisville’s win over Virginia Tech

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The Cards are now 3-0 in conference play.

Virginia Tech v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You can find video of Chris Mack’s postgame press conference here

Louisville head coach Chris Mack

(Opening Statement): “I know we beat an excellent team. I said this coming into the game that I thought they were playing as well as anybody in the league. I think that while they may not have the name of a North Carolina or a Duke, I think they are playing as well as anybody in the league. They are very well coached. They have really good players. They are connected. I told our guys in the locker room before the game that we were playing a really good team. I thought we beat a really good team tonight. It is not because they did not play well. Jalen Cone is a freak show. He is so tiny but he is so fast – so fast. He just pops up and shoots it so quick. I told him after that game that I didn’t like him at all. We recruited him a little bit. He is a terrific player. Keve Aluma was playing so well coming into the game. For Jae’lyn Withers, a red-shirt freshman to have to battle him and have a double-double, so he and Quinn (Slazinski) really, really played above where they have been playing. Our team needed that against a really good Va Tech team.”

(If you look at the stats: you win by two, and yet there was only one lead change in the whole gameAt the end of the game, tell me a little bit about your thoughts about what went on there.)

“Well, a couple of those shots were just really, really, you know, gut wrenching tough shots. I think the game might have been a little different down the stretch. Carlik (Jones), missed that little finger roll. I know he was so frustrated with himself, you know he’s delivered so many times for us, and got right to the paint and just rimmed in and out. Then they come down and cut the deficit and now it becomes a little bit closer. We did a good job of getting the ball inbound against the pressure. I thought that they would, on the last play where Carlik sort of lost the ball going to his left. We thought they were really going to double hard on the ball screen. We’re going to short roll David right there in the post and have maybe a lob. Short roll right there at the elbow and Jae’Lyn Withers was going fly the baseline from the corner, but they just switched it. Carlik, he had to make a one on one play and it was tough. We didn’t give him a whole lot of space. That was probably my error more than his.”

(The Cards won the battle of points in the paint 30 to 20. They’ve been running really well of late, Virginia Tech, yet UofL held VT to two fast break points. So defensively there had to be a lot of things you were pleased with)

“Yeah, my uncle probably was doing the fast break points because I remember a three that Jalen Cone hit right in front of our bench in transition. It’s hard to keep a really good team down. Like I said they play, they run. I didn’t like our start, you get down 11 to nothing, but then to have a halftime lead of five points, we out-scored them by 16. They’re a really good team. I like what Mike does in terms of the duck-ins for Aluma. They also do it for Mutts. We felt like they would do that against Quinn (Slazinski) and Sam (Williamson) as well. We held our own in the paint. They hit some tough shots down the stretch. I liked our offense. I thought we did a pretty good job tonight. We were a lot less stagnant we had a purpose. We got to continue to get better.”

(Cards were moving with a purpose. Do you like your running game a little more tonight?)

“I did and we’re going to continue to push the pace. It was really strange because at the beginning of the year, we had like six, seven healthy scholarship guys that were playing. Then we were playing every other day for eight days and to tell them we’re going to play like Arkansas in the mid-90s? We can’t do it and be able to play the next game. So now that guys are starting to come off the injured reserve, guys like Josh Nickelberry. You know we’re getting Charles (Minlend) back. We’re going to start to have more numbers and have the ability to push the ball. And I think we’re really effective when we do that because we have two of the better point guards in the country in David (Johnson) and Carlik (Jones). They did their job again tonight, 17 each.

(About Withers, with a double-double, 12 rebounds. He was taken out after the start of the second half when he was playing well. Are you still having to manage minutes for him for endurance?)

“I thought he had a heck of a stretch to start the half. And he called for it. And that’s our rule. You call when you need a sub. You know, we’re going get you out and we’ll put you back in when you when you feel like you’re ready. We didn’t take him out because of mental errors or he was playing lazy. He just got tired. When you play a guy like (Keve) Aluma and you’re running the floor, those things are going to happen.”

(About Samuell Williamson struggling offensively. What does he have to do to get going a little bit?)

“I think he has to play harder. You know, I think that if we’re all running the floor and he’s not, he sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s been practicing a little bit better. But, you know, he does have to get going. He’s way better player than he’s playing. If he allows it to get mental, that’ll be an issue but, you know, the good thing is he’s keeping a good attitude. Usually good things happen for guys that have the right attitude. He needs to play harder on both ends of the floor, and with more intensity, and when he does that I think he’ll be a lot more successful at this level.”

(What about Saturday’s cancelled game with Georgia Tech? Do you approach it with a possibility they give you another team or there’s no way you’re going to play a game?)

“Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to play. We looked around a little bit. But the last thing we want to do is bring in a team that doesn’t have the ACC standards and protocols and then we get positives and then we’re like some of these other teams that are pausing. Our team came back from the Kentucky game off Christmas break, that was a three-day break that we had. We went right into prep for Boston College, we went right into prep. We need to work on ourselves, especially as we get some of these guys back, we get Charles back. We need to do situational stuff. We need to do stuff, you know, where we’re handling the press with a couple minutes left in the game. We need to be able to rest a little bit. But we’ll still practice and we’ll turn our attention to Wake Forest more when the beginning of the week comes around.”

(Down 11-0 and called that quick timeout. What was message It was almost like there was a completely different team defensively after that. The intensity really amped up.)

“There were just some absolute blown assignments. Not only blown assignments on the defensive end, but on offense. You have to be the same team on game night as you are on the practice floor, otherwise trust is burnt between teammates. We’re young. We’re learning that. But on game nights, it can’t, all of a sudden, be now I’m going to drive it here. That’s not the kind of drive. It’s one pass, and there’s 20 seconds on the shot clock. We still want to move. We want to get player movement and ball movement before we try to attack soft spots or scenes, we feel like are there or take advantage of ball screen offense. I felt like we were slow in the beginning. Virginia Tech never stops moving on offense. Sometimes in practice we have defended a stagnant team on offense. That has been my complaint of my team. You get in the habit of practicing against yourself, and you’re standing around a lot defensively. That’s not going to work against Virginia Tech. We amped it up. Carlik [Jones] hit up the passing lanes a couple of times. We were much better after that timeout.”

(Could you elaborate about what you liked about [Jae’Lyn] Withers and [Quinn] Slazinski tonight? You mentioned both of them.)

“I would tell you that if they were up here, they would probably tell you how hard I’ve been on each of them. With Jae’Lyn, I’ve never really stopped being hard on. Quinn, I think the last three games, has given us the kind of effort and toughness that is expected. I think that good players want expectations. Good players want to be coached hard. Good players are ready. They’re ready. Jae’Lyn’s not always ready. I don’t mean that in a game. He’s learning in the game. He’s a freshman. In the first rep of a practice drill, he bobbles the ball. In the first rep of a practice drill after his position coach has told him, ‘Hey, cut left’, he’ll cut right, and then he’ll snap out of it. Really good players at this level don’t snap out of it. They are engrained. They are invested in the moment. Jae’Lyn’s learning that. And when he does run the floor really hard, when he does block out or above his man in the post, he can have nights like tonight. I told him I was really happy because coaches that are hard on players expect a lot. I said, ‘Just so you know, next practice, I’m going to jump you even harder when you bobble the ball on the first drill.’

(What about Slazinski?)

“I think Quinn is a great voice for our team. He sees what’s going on on the floor. He communicates. His toughness level has increased. He still slips in a few areas, but again, part of that is probably game experience versus not being tough enough at times. He’s learning, but I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence. It was good to see him go 1-2 from the three-point line. Players get their confidence boosted when a shot goes in, but that can’t be the reason that you play hard or not. I think Quinn has done a great job in his role the last three games.“

(After David [Johnson] missed that last free throw, what were you hoping the team would do? Were you wanting them to play good perimeter defense, knowing they would give up a three?)

“I wanted them to play really good perimeter defense so they wouldn’t make a three. We were going to call a timeout so we didn’t Kentucky it at the end. We wanted to foul if we made it. We didn’t communicate that to David. Had they missed, we’d just have to play solid man-to-man defense if David misses. If he made it, we were going to call a timeout. I’m sure Mike [Young] may have called a timeout, so whoever beat who to the timeout. We were going to make sure we were matched up. We were going to foul the ball handler before half court and hope we get the rebound off the missed free throw. It was sort of a good thing that Jae’Lyn went after the ball without fouling because I think he got [Keve] Aluma spun out a little bit. He led it to [Hunter] Cattoor and they were just sort of jumbled together. He did a good job. He cut across the grain, and we sort of communicated that out. He took a far shot. I knew as soon as he let it go that it wasn’t going in. That was the first shot that I felt like wasn’t going in tonight from either he or [Jalen] Cone. From my vantage point, I was straight behind his release.”

(About Mack sounding about as pleased. Is that a reflection of a tight win in a conference opponent or do you see real progress in your team?)

“A little bit of both. I was really well prepared to come here and say, ‘Hey, hats off to Virginia Tech. The kid hit a great shot at the end and we battled one of the best teams in the league.’ I said that to our team. My job, as I see it, is to tell the team the truth. I really felt like that coming in. We had the power rankings up in our gym. Wes Durham had Virginia Tech No. 1. Luke Hancock had them No. 1. Everybody had them at No. 1, and there’s a reason for that. They’ve earned that. It’s really early. I think we beat a really good team that I thought played well. Mike [Young] may disagree, but I thought they played well. They didn’t lay an egg. I think we’re growing up. Certain players are getting better. Jae’Lyn Withers had his best game in uniform. So did Quinn [Slazinski], I thought. Carlik [Jones] and David [Johnson] continue to be solid. Josh Nickleberry is now contributing, not just on the offensive end, but defensively he made some plays. I think we’re getting better.”

(Does Mack see the stagnation coming to an end?)

“I don’t think anything’s final. Success is never final, and failure is never fatal. I’ve heard that before, but I don’t know who to quote, so I won’t take that as my own. We have to continue to coach that they take ownership of we don’t play stagnant. We move the ball. We attack. I think we’re going to get there. We’re just young, but we’ll get there.

(You guys are in first place. I know it’s early, I know it’s January 7, but you’re 3-0 and in first place in the ACC. Get your arms around that. What does that mean to you guys, and how does that fuel or motivate you guys for the next eight weeks, especially given the roller coaster of COVID and everything?)

I’ve talked to Kenny Klein. We’re going to opt out from here on out. If Mr. Swofford would like to present us with the trophy, we will be at the ACC Tournament, wherever it’s played. It’s so early. I don’t know if we’ll play 20 ACC games, but we’re going to play a heck of a lot more than three. We have a long way to go. It beats being 0-3, I can tell you that.

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Virginia Tech Head Coach Mike Young Quotes

On Louisville’s play in the paint

“I just think [Keve Aluma] didn’t have his best stuff. He wasn’t as explosive in the paint. Yes, they did a nice job on him but man we were getting the ball to him in spots where we just come to expect him to a score with regularity and he had some difficulty. I may have a different opinion as I go back and watch it tonight but I thought we got it to him where we want to get it to him, he just didn’t have all four pitches working tonight.”

On Jalen Cone and Naheim Alleyne

“Jalen probably kept us in it in the first half. I’m probably lucky to come in down 36-31. He was really, really good again in the second. Naheim - I got after him a little bit of the half I didn’t think he had a very good look. I didn’t think he was himself in the first, but really, really good in the second half.”

On if the last shot was a good look

“I would take that from [Hunter Catoor], Cone or Naheim. Little tricky, out of timeouts, I called one – the first of the second half - look back on that and may question that a little bit. Johnson is a really good player and gave us a break missing that second foul down two. Again, he can really score the basketball, really shoot the basketball. Cone was running in front of me, he came off a little rub action at the top

with Keve not contested, he missed the shot. Move on.”

On the offensive game plan

“Score. It’s not like we change night in night out. We’d would like to get Alleyne going off screening actions. We want to be able to throw the ball into the post to Aluma. We want to get [Justyn] Mutts going. Not wholesale changes from Miami to this one.”

On positive takeaways

“We had a bad start. Our starts have been pretty good all in all over the course of the season. Small sample size to some degree – what is that number 10 – but we didn’t respond very well. We just mishandled a couple things and they popped us in the nose and took off on us a little bit. I was proud, I am, of our toughness. We missed some opportunities. There’s a stop, I think it was No. 11 that corralled it on the lane line closest to their bench and stuck it back in and we weren’t contesting that. But proud of them for hanging in there and doing everything but winning the basketball game.”