Louisville-Florida Notebook

Rick Pitino and Russ Smith discuss Louisville win over Florida in the West Regional finals Saturday to advance to the Final Four next weekend in New Orleans.

Rick Pitino Opening Statement

I said yesterday that for me it's not difficult playing against a coach that I love so much. And I've done it before. But tonight it was very difficult because of the way the game ended, because they outplayed us, for 32 minutes they outplayed us. And it really hurt inside. As much as I felt like celebrating, it really hurt because he did such a masterful job of coaching.

That being said, this is the second time this has happened to me in my coaching career. In 2005, to go to a Final Four, same circumstance, we played West Virginia, a little different at that time because we only had 7 players, Otis George was the 7th guy, couldn't practice with a stress fracture. Played West Virginia, they hit 11 3's in the first half. We never practiced man, couldn't play man. If you know about John Beilein and his back-door offense, three-point offense.

I went up at halftime and I tour up the 16-page stat sheet. I said, guys, I'm sorry, we're not prepared. We don't have much time, but we have to play man. We've got to press them because it's not working. So it's going to come from the heart. And we won in overtime.

And the same exact thing happened tonight. We could not stop, they were putting four guys on the perimeter, we could not stop their 3-point attack. They're one of the best shooting teams I've faced in a long, long time. They're just awesome at it. They move the ball. They're brilliant at it.

We switched to man. And Billy made another great move. When we switched to man, he kept putting Gorgui defending the pick-and-roll at the end. We tried switching it, blitzing it and nothing worked. Finally we had Chane, every time he ran up, Chane would leave his man and Gorgui would go to Chane's man, and it finally worked and we got our run at that time.

Florida was brilliant. It hurts to see Billy lose. But I've been proud of a lot of teams and I've said this team reminds me of the '87 team. I've never wanted a Final Four more in my life than in '87. Just to ease the pain that we were going through at the time of losing a son and distract my wife and family from that moment. And I never wanted a Final Four more than for these guys.

They give me every single thing they have in their bodies. And they're just the most incredible group to coach. And now they're going to get this experience. And the only thing I've asked them to is not to be satisfied by going.

Getting back to the technical foul that you picked up. At that point in the game did you feel like you needed to do something to inspire, light a fire underneath your team, because it seemed like there were some calls going against your squad during the course of the game?
COACH PITINO: It's the second time I've gotten a technical by that official. The first time I yelled Kyle, would you get over to screen. He thought I said, call. In that game I was just yelling at Peyton, why would you foul, he's falling down? I'm yelling why, why? Why would you foul? And he gave me a technical. I probably deserved it, according to him, because I was out of the box. But I've gotten two T's from him, without ever yelling at an official.

We were, at that point in time, fighting as hard as we could fight in that basketball game. And we thought we could score as the game moves on they weren't shooting real well. But when we started switching everything and getting the right switches they started struggling a little bit.

And in the second half I'm not sure, you can correct me, I don't think they made a three in the second half, am I correct on that? 0 for none.

We had to switch defenses at that point. And our guys wanted to go to a Final Four in the worst way. I kept telling them, you can get in the game, just play aggressive man to man and go to the low post, go inside. And then Russ-diculous gets a little carried away, and he hasn't played that position much. But Peyton made a really bad second foul, really bad third foul. And a really bad fourth foul. No rhyme or reason to make them. He was playing great. They couldn't stop him in terms of getting in the lane. I was yelling why at that point, didn't understand it. Because he did foul him.

Coach, talk about your bench play. You outscored them by 17. Russ had a big 19 and 9 rebounds from your guys off the bench?
COACH PITINO: Well, you know, Russ has taken his game from -- I kid around and call him Russ-diculous, taking a page out of Lin-sanity stuff, but he is ridiculous, because he really came here averaging 32 points a game in high school. Goes to a prep school, because he's not recruited. He has a unique ability to score, but he has no clue how to play the game (laughter).

So the first thing we had to do is, okay, Russ, let's go from eight ridiculous shots a game to five to three. Now let's get -- because we're going to the Final Four, to one, two. And he's done that. So he has bailed us out of more situations this year with his play because we don't have a great one-on-one team. Guys that can take you off the bounce and score. Peyton can take you off the bounce, but no one else really does that. So Russ can do it. It's just that you can't fathom what he's going to do when he takes you off the bounce. That's the difficult thing coaching him. He's learned so much and improved so much and has bailed us out of so many situations.

What about getting Behanan established in the second half, did you think they were going to have that much of a problem?
COACH PITINO: I was upset at Chane. I kept getting on him because of his D. He was really playing bad defense, letting his man go around him. And I told him, I said when Prather -- from the scouting report, Prather flops in the low post every time. It's on every film.

Now, it's a legitimate charge, because he's great at going down. So I said, Chane, we're going inside to you. He's going to flop. So crab dribble, where you dribble below your knees and you avoid the contact, get to your spot, he won't stop you. Well, he immediately charged into him.

I told him, I said, son, that's what scouting is all about. Then the next time he made a perfect crab move, made a great shot on the baseline, really wanted the ball, really played terrific down the stretch when we needed him. Very surprising for a freshman.

Do you have any idea what will happen to the state of Kentucky if Kentucky can win their basketball game to win the Final Four?
COACH PITINO: The one thing I've never been in my life -- we had a good regular season, and I don't think the majority of our fans really appreciated our terrific season. They looked down the road and they only lost one game. I keep trying to tell our fans, we're not Kentucky, we have no desire to be Kentucky.

We think they're excellent. We think they're great. I coached there. It's great. Great tradition. We want to be Louisville. We have a different mission. They have a different mission. We both want to get to a Final Four and win a championship.

But there's so much petty jealousies, when I was at Kentucky we would never get jealous of Louisville in any way possible. We were just appreciative of being in Kentucky. The measuring stick, because they're doing so well, our fans never appreciated a really good season that was decimated by injuries. Decimated. There were times we couldn't even score.

If that happens, it would be awesome. Awesome for the state. But we would say, the way I look at Kentucky and the way I look at their coaching staff, I marvel at excellence. I respect excellence. So I've got great respect for excellence.

But I don't get into these petty things, Kentucky/Louisville. To me it's nonsense. I never got into the Mets/Red Sox or Yankees/Red Sox. I just appreciated being a Yankee fan. And I appreciate the excellence.

I really felt bad this year for Murry State. I thought they were a great team. Real proud of their kids and what they accomplished this year. So if it happens, it happens. It would be great for our state. And I'll look at it as being great for our state. But on both sides.

There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us. You've got to watch. They've got to put the fences up on bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville. While I think it's a great honor to play a great team. I think it's a great honor. There's no jealousy on our part if they get there. I respect excellence, and they're certainly an excellent ball club.

Kind of to a lesser extent you've talked about Kyle Kuric kind of making incremental improvements in the same vein. Around the 8 minute mark he gathered the guys on the floor and had a speech about overcoming the adversity. Can you expound on what Kyle has meant to this team and for him to speak out in that situation knowing that he's kind of a quiet guy?
COACH PITINO: Well, before the game Richard took a bunch of clips of Kyle's best plays in terms of hustling intensity. And while the other guys were out shooting Kyle watched them. And Rich told him he needs to play this way. I didn't know Kyle did it. To be honest with you, I'm the most shocked person on the earth that it was him that did it. Because he really doesn't do those things.

So he stepped out of character at a much needed moment and showed that type of leadership. A young man like Chris, the reason I wanted him to take down the net at that point in time, here's a young man that lives in the shadow of his brother all his life. And lives for these moments that never come to reality. I wanted him to understand how much we appreciate Chris Smith for what he did to the program. Those guys meant a lot to us.

What's it mean to you personally at this stage of your career to go to the Final Four and also after the extortion deal, the two years you've been through?
COACH PITINO: Well, you know what happens sometimes? People don't really know the truth about what really happened sometimes, but you've got to go through the process and the legal system. I said I'd really like some people to know the truth. And the lawyer said, just go on with your life. And I did.

And a lot of times the last two years I took a lot of grief from a lot of people saying a lot of things. And I never thought in my life I could turn the other cheek and just walk on. And I did. And some of the most ugly things I've heard, I just took it inside. And today as I look back on it I'm real proud that you could turn the other cheek.

So for me personally it's a great moment. I really now wish it didn't happen against Billy. And I really had no problem, because I played against my assistant coaches, because I love him so much. But he knows that.

And the first thing he said to me and walked out, I said Billy, I feel bad, I feel terrible, man. He said, are you kidding me, coach? I am so happy for you. That just didn't happen in this world.

I've had six children and I really consider him a 7th, because everything I've dreamed about a player improving, whether it's Gorgui or Nazr Mohammed or whoever it may be, it was always the bar of Billy Donovan. He was raising my bar. Because what he was and what he became I've never seen the likes of in my lifetime. Because he -- his body transformed. His game transformed. He became unguardable and gave all of us the biggest thrills of our life when he played.

I get so much credit at times for transforming his body and doing this with him. Billy Donovan made me as a coach. I became the Knicks coach because of Billy Donovan.

Russ Smith

Can you just talk about Siva goes out, you're in, talk about the last four minutes?
RUSS SMITH: Man, I was actually pretty nervous because this is one of the first times that I really handled the one in like a situation that was so serious. And it could have potentially cost us the season. I was very nervous. I had to find a way to calm myself down and get the job done, try and get Chane the ball, because Chane was going to get some great looks and just run the offense. That was the only thing that was going through my mind.

Q. When coach picked up the technical foul, four shoots, four free throws, but when coach picked up the TL, did that fire up the bench?
RUSS SMITH: After the technical foul I remember Kyle grabbed everyone together and said, listen, we're going through adversity. We're down 11 or 12, might it be, calls aren't going our way. They're hitting ridiculous shots. And let's just get some stops, because we're facing adversity. And we've been here before. And ever since then, we took off. And came out with the victory.

Post-Game Notebook

2012 West Regional All-Tournament Team:
?F - Draymond Green, Michigan State
?G - Peyton Siva, Louisville
?C - Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
?G - Bradley Beal, Florida
?F - Chane Behanan, Louisville, 2012 West Regional Most Outstanding Player

University of Louisville is headed to its ninth NCAA Final Four, last reaching that plateau in 2005. Louisville's NCAA Final Four teams: 1959, 1972, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 2005, 2012.

Only four coaches have coached more Final Four teams than Louisville head coach Rick Pitino (6). Denny Crum of Louisville and Adolph Rupp also have six Final Four appearances. Pitino was the first coach to lead three different teams to the Final Four.

Louisville has a 9-3 record in regional championship games. U of L advanced to its 1986 NCAA Championship by way of the West Region, reached its 2005 Final Four through the West, and has a collective 15-5 record in the region.

Over the last 10 minutes of the second half, Louisville went on a 23-8 run. With 10 minutes left, Florida held a 60-49 advantage.

Louisville scored 15 points off of turnovers in the game. Florida did not score a single point on a turnover. Florida turned the ball over 14 times, while Louisville turned it over six times.

Louisville's bench boasted a 22-5 advantage over Florida. The Cardinals were led with 19 off the bench by sophomore guard Russ Smith.

Louisville is now 4-1 when facing a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament (1980, 1986, 2004, 2005, 2012). The Cardinals improved to 14-7 when playing as a No. 4 seed.

A BIG EAST team has emerged from a West Region in Phoenix four times.


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