Harrell stresses need for better defense

University of Louisville sophomore Montrezl Harrell is coming off impressive back-to-back outings, totaling 26 points, 24 rebounds and 5 blocks. He's also not shied away from expressing the need for better team defense.

The locker room following Thursday's loss to Memphis wasn't a pleasant place, but it never is following a home defeat, especially when the game is an important conference match-up against an old rival.

The Rick Pitino post game press conference lasted an uncomfortable three minutes. He expressed his continued disappointment with the team's defensive performance after the Tigers converted 51% of their field goal attempts in the 73-67 win.

"Our defense is not as good this year," Pitino said. "It hasn't been. I hate to keep beating that horse to death but it hasn't been."

Montrezl Harrell reiterated Pitino's message immediately afterward in the team locker room.

"We're going to score the ball," he explained. "We got people in this room that can score at any given time. We need to go down at the other end and be worrying about stopping them."

After picking up their first conference loss, Harrell stressed the importance of team basketball and more importantly, the same desire to succeed. His comments felt more directed to his teammates throughout the room, than as an answer to a inquiring member of the media.

"You just have to look at yourself in the mirror and figure out what you want to do," he explained. "It's put up or shut up time right now. We can't get down. We can't start blaming this person, here or there."

It has reached that time of the season. A reality check is needed. Some call it gut check time.

He doesn't believe that the problem is a lack of effort, or an understanding of defensive sets, but more of having the drive to get it done.

"I wouldn't say that its a lack of effort," said Harrell, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. "We want to be in the right place. You want to make the right rotation. It just all comes down to whether you are doing it.

Again, seeming to be speaking more to his teammates, he strengthened his point for the need of better team play a couple questions later.

"We have to look each other in the eye and come together as a team and be ready to play. You got to look at yourself in the mirror and realize what you want to do. If you don't want to play then you need to have a talk with coach and you can sit on the sideline. We need everybody locked in as one and play together."

The following day at practice, he wanted to make sure everyone was aware of his challenge. When the team arrived for their 1:00p.m. practice, the Cardinals Hall of Fame head coach summoned the group together for a team meeting and Harrell took the opportunity to repeat his comments from the night before.

"When we went to practice the next day, coach brought us in and talked to us," Harrell said. "I just kind of stepped up and told them the same thing, that we need to look at ourselves in the mirror."

Against SMU on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals defensive pressure was much improved. The Louisville defense held the visiting Mustangs to 32% shooting in the first half, drawing high praise from a much happier Pitino following the 71-63 win.

"This is a team who shoots one of the highest in the country and our first half defense was the best we played all year. We rotated beautifully and we did a lot of great things."

Harrell notched his second consecutive double-double. Making the start at center, he totaled 12 points and 13 rebounds. He also recorded 4 blocks against SMU and has connected on 57% of his field goal attempts in the last two outings.

"I'm just looking to play team basketball," said Harrell, who believes that the team took a step in the right direction and can use the victory as a potential springboard for the remainder of the season.

"You got to want it," he said, seconds later adding, "we just have to build on it."

Up next for Louisville is the fifth AAC game of the season, a home contest against Houston on Thursday night.


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