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Tremendously excited for this group. Given everything that we’ve been through to start this season, obviously not having our head coach here to meet us, to have everybody in our locker room - not just me, but every player, scholarship, walk-on, every support staff member, every assistant coach step up. Be blessed enough to have the opportunity to come down here and win a championship, says a lot about the competitive character of this program. Saya a lot about the people in that Kueber Center. Everybody stepped up. Everybody deserves a piece of that trophy. We did this thing together. I’m just so proud, and so happy for our entire group and our program, our university, our fan base. Those who stuck with us, I thank you, we thank you. It was a rough time, but hopefully, this weekend, Louisville basketball fans can sit back and enjoy, and have a good time. Because we had a good time down here in the Bahamas, that’s for sure.
(On their mentality when it comes to their defensive performance and on rebounding)
Unbelievable effort from our guys on the defensive end. We came down here after a really rough film session a day after beating Detroit. We took an off day on Sunday, that Monday we had a 7am film session that really started to set the tone for embracing our new identity. An identity that we’ve long believed in, and that we were not executing. Defending, keeping the ball out of the paint, taking away rhythm threes, and taking care of our backboard. Boy, did we excel and do that at a high level, both the day before yesterday and today. The proof is in the pudding. The fact that you hold a really talented Maryland team to 36% from the floor, 20% from three, and you take care of business on the backboard, 51 to 25. Unbelievable, unbelievable.
(On what winning the event means for Pegues)
It serves as an example that, if I work hard, and I really do the little things right, I can do this job. I can be a head coach. I wasn’t always sure of that before this opportunity. Unfortunately, coach had to take a hit, and it gave me an opportunity to step into this role. I thank God for it, I thank Coach (Chris) Mack for trusting me with the program and his absence. I thank our administration for believing in me, I thank this guy right here, Kenny Klein, for supporting me and the rest of my staff, our players. Everybody’s helped pick me up, and certainly reassured me, and given me the confidence that I can do this job somewhere.
(On taking down Maryland as a native of the DMV area)
Watching so many great coaches and players in the DMV, basketball is rich in our town. For me to have the opportunity to be a head coach on the story program like Louisville, come down here and help us get to 5-1 and win a championship, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I owe it all to my mom and dad, starting with them. Plus great coaches like Morgan Wooten and Mike Brey, and so many others that have benefited me. So many great players, so many people have just spoken life and love into me. It’s great to be a part of such a rich basketball history in that DMV area.
(On winning a game where the offense was not clicking)
It’s unbelievably gratifying. We’re not professionals. We’re not always going to shoot the ball well. For us to go 21 of 60 from the floor, and only shoot 35% from the floor, 22% from three, and win a game by eight against one of the better teams in the Big Ten. To do what we did on the glass to find a way to win, despite not being efficient offensively - and I won’t say efficient. We just didn’t make some shots. I thought we had some really good looks, they just didn’t go down. There are gonna be days like that. You’re playing down here in a ballroom, it’s not a normal setup. No excuses, but our guys showed a resilience and a toughness. We weren’t going to let the offensive man dictate how we guarded and how we rebounded, and that’s why we won. That’s a tribute to our guys and their competitive character.
(On Jarrod West’s 7-0 run to jumpstart the offense in the second half)
Unbelievable. Jarrod was awesome. He did not shoot the ball well the other day, today he goes for 4-10, he has a huge three, he gets in the lane and makes a couple layups after getting his shot blocked in the first half and missing a couple easy ones. Matt Cross hits an unbelievable three in transition, a confident three. He was so ticked off at himself for missing a couple in the first half, and I had a really good look at that. As soon as it left his hand, I knew it was going in, and ignited a run. It’s a tribute to multiple guys not allowing the offense end to dictate who we were on the defensive end.
(On the rebounding emphasis in the Bahamas)
Well, we got 15 offensive rebounds against a really tough, physical Mississippi State team. I challenged those guys today before the game. I said, “we got 15 the other day, can we get more?” And we got two more. How about that? 51 and 25 is unbelievable. If I don’t remember any other stat, I’ll remember that stat for the rest of my life. If I never become a head coach, I’ll always remember the fact that we out-rebounded a Big Ten team 51 to 25, despite shooting the way that we did. It’s a tribute to our guys. We have a drill called ‘next rebounding’ that we do in practice, that we hadn’t done very much this year, because it’s a really competitive, physical drill. I’ve been in practices both Xavier at Louisville, where guys get really close to fighting in that drill, because it’s that physical. We hadn’t done that drill, because guys can get hurt in that drill, and it can become overly physical. But I felt like it was time for us to bring that drill out, and we did that on Monday and Tuesday. Our guys handled that drill the right way, and it paid off. I would imagine “next rebounding” is here to stay.
(On if he thinks it’s just a matter of time before the offensive rhythm hits)
I absolutely do. We’re going to start making a lot of threes. We have some good looks. Noah Locke is a much better shooter than 4-12 from the floor. Three of eight (on three-pointers) is pretty good, actually. That’s not bad at all. But some of these other guys like Jae’Lyn Withers, Dre Davis they didn’t hit one a day. We can shoot the ball, but until we figure that rhythm out and we make shots, let’s keep guarding, let’s rebound the ball. Let’s not lose games just because we aren’t making shots. Ebbs and flows when you shoot the ball, but defense has to be a constant.
(On Malik Willaims’ play in the Bahamas)
I think was a savvy veteran today that wanted to win a championship, wanting to like find a way. Today, he actually stepped on somebody’s foot and tweaked that ankle. For a guy that’s had multiple surgeries on that foot, that’s scary. He was wincing at one point, and I was afraid that he had done something more severe. I asked him if he was alright, and he said, “Yeah, I’m all right”. So I said, “come on, let’s go then! Let’s get it. You got 20 more minutes, and you got an off day for the rest of the day, and you got all day tomorrow. Let’s just suck it up and push through.” That’s exactly what he did. I am so happy for him. Some of our guys to taken a lot of grief, even from our own fan base, which isn’t fair. He’s a kid who’s dealt with a lot of injuries he’s not a professional, he works hard, he tries, he makes mistakes, he gets up. He fought, and I’m so happy for him. To go 13 and 12, to go 6 for 6 on the line, and lead the charge down here, to carry out our coaching message, our scouting plan and make sure to guys reinforced it. He deserves his flowers. He deserves his flowers. He’s not going to make every layup, he’s not going to be perfect, but his heart and soul is in it, and he deserves love for that.
(On what the championship does to propel the team moving forward)
One thing initially, I hope it helps us to beat Michigan State on Wednesday. That’s gonna be a worthy opponent as usual at home. They’re really good, well coached by a Hall of Fame coach. I’ll let Coach Mack deal with that one. Hopefully it just bolsters our confidence, and reassures our guys that if we maintain and embrace that the fact that defense and rebounding has to be our identity, that we can beat anybody. No matter the runs, the opponent, the location. Just bring your hard hat, bring a defensive mindset, bring a mindset of protecting your backbone and getting on other teams’ backboard. If you do that, you give yourself a chance to beat anybody, no matter how many shots you make.