Pitino talks Sweet 16 matchup vs. Arizona

Louisville coach Rick Pitino met with the media Thursday in Indianapolis to talk about the Cardinals Sweet 16 match-up against Arizona Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Q. I believe this is your 47th NCAA game you've coached in. This is Russ Pennell's third. Can you talk about how you think he's done this year, being the new coach in this scenario.

COACH PITINO: Well, I really honestly don't believe it has anything to do with coaching at this point, whether you're coaching for 50 years or you're coaching for five years, the players are going to determine who wins and loses. Obviously the coaching staff at Arizona has done a fabulous job getting their team to not only the NCAA tournament but to perform so well in the first two games.

Q. May not have anything to do with coaching, but what do you attribute your 8-0 record at this level to?

COACH PITINO: Well, I don't think it has anything to do with the Sweet-16. We've just played real good basketball in the month of March. It takes a while to build any brand certainly. At Kentucky in the second year, you have to have goals that sometimes not only are unrealistic, but when you're rebuilding, you've got to give them something to play for in terms of winning. Our goal that year was to win the conference. We couldn't play in the NCAA tournament. We wanted to win the SEC. So every year we just try to make our goals very lofty. Now obviously once you get into the NCAA, that's a dream for every player to perform on the national stage and play well. We're risk-takers this time of year. We have a lot of fun with it. And I think those are all variables to making a team successful in March.

Q. All four teams here have won NCAA championships or are contenders for it just about every year. How does it feel to be in a regional that's kind of filled with the blue bloods of the sport?

COACH PITINO: I'm used to the blue bloods (laughter). You know, I think it's great. Everybody likes to see once in a while a Cinderella come in, a mid-major play well, a George Mason, someone like that. You never know how it's going to shake out. Right now the 16 best teams in the country are left. The 16 teams with probably the most physical talent. In this region certainly it doesn't get any better in terms of talent than Arizona, Kansas and Michigan State and us. We all have a lot of talented athletes who perform well under pressure.

Q. You press but they also press. Can you compare their press and how they use it as opposed to how you do it?

COACH PITINO: It's almost identical. It's the closest I've ever seen two teams in the type of pressure they apply. Even our zone and their zone, plays it like a 1-1-3, gets after it, treats more like man-to-man than a zone. They do one thing different: they bring their center out to the corner sometimes.


Rick Pitino talked about No. 1 seed
Louisville's game against No. 12
seed Arizona Thursday in Indianapolis.

But it's almost identical of what we're trying to accomplish. They have a lightning-quick point guard, who is playing fabulous basketball. Great with his hands. Great in the open court. Shoots it terrific. He causes a lot of havoc on defense. Very good shot blocker in the back. Defensively we're very similar. Offensively we're probably different.

Q. At this point in the year, how much film are you personally watching and how much is your assistants coaching?

COACH PITINO: I think we're all watching. What happens is I'll concentrate on the first opponent and then the other guys, whoever has that scout, is concentrating on the second opponent. Then I start catching up with the team we're playing. Then they'll go ahead and they'll go to the next game. We're all watching obviously a lot of film. Today you have more film than anybody else. It's a great tool. You know each other very well. You don't know each other as well when you play on Friday and the Sunday game. The assistants will know it better than me when you have that one-day preparation.

Q. Arizona is a team that kind of fell off the radar nationally because they lost some games, but they're playing well now. What have you seen watching film?

COACH PITINO: I think it takes time for any adjustments. And they had, obviously, a coaching change, started to play differently, different concepts put in. So it just takes time for the team to get cohesive, even though they're a veteran ballclub in some areas. They peaked at the right time. They have outstanding talent. Three of their young men, certainly you can't forget Horne, any of their young players. They're as good as anybody in the country in terms of being draft picks. Outstanding point guard. Outstanding five men. Budinger, seems like he's been around college basketball for a long, long time because he's been so brilliant. They have outstanding talent. We know that. Now they understand what their coaches are teaching them concept-wise offensively and defensively. They're a very dangerous opponent. But to be honest with you, as I look at the other 15 teams in the Sweet 16, I think everybody would have the same comment about the people they're playing.

Q. Ever since November, Arizona has heard your name in connection with this job. Do you have any interest at all in Arizona?

COACH PITINO: To be honest with you, I'm glad that I'm not living on the West Coast because I haven't heard any of that. I heard a little bit more about Boston University wanting me back where I started. But I'm hoping they settle for my son (laughter).

Q. The last time you faced Arizona at this type of stage, you faced a guard named Mike Bibby as a freshman. You talked about Nic Wise. Can you talk about him again, what he does in handling pressure.

COACH PITINO: He's really great to watch. He's obviously on a great run, shooting the ball extremely well. One of the best pick-and-roll guys in splitting the pick-and-roll I've seen this year on tape. He's also lightning-quick, great defensive hands. I really appreciate his game, watching it. I don't know if I'll appreciate playing against it. But the Arizona team back then when we played them in '97 was a far different basketball team than this one, and we were a far different basketball team. We were a very young team back then. They were a team that had to be three No. 1's to win that championship. It was quite a feat.

Q. Sorry to put you on the spot, but you didn't really answer that question about interest in Arizona. What would your answer be?

COACH PITINO: I wouldn't answer any question about any other job because it would be disrespectful to the University of Louisville. You know, any time you hear a player stand up here and say, I'm not going pro, I'm coming back, he's gone. Any time a coach says he's not interested in a job, he's dead interested in a job.

So, you know, I don't mislead you. All I can tell you is for eight years I've given every ounce I've had to the University of Louisville. I will continue to do that. I can poke fun and make all the jokes in the world, but there's no truth. Anybody today can go on a message board. Anybody today can put anything out there they want - truth or untruth. All I can tell you is that I've lived and died with Louisville for eight years. I've heard it about Kentucky and Billy G.

The only job I can be honest with you, the only job I've thought about for a 24 higher period since I've been at the University of Louisville was Providence college last year. I sat down, the athletic director at the University of Louisville is one of my closest friends. I sat down with him, I said, Because of the personal things I went through at Providence, I wanted to sit down and talk with them about the job to see if I did want to come back because of personal reasons that were very deep to me. I sat down with them, talked to them bit, and realized Louisville was the place for me. Outside of that, for eight years, I haven't thought about any job except the University of Louisville, and that's answering you the honest way.

Q. Your initial impressions of venue, with the vastness of it, is it going to affect the shooting tomorrow night?

COACH PITINO: I haven't been out there yet. I think it does affect the shooting by all teams playing in domes. So I think you've got to understand that it takes time to get used to it. It's very important that you take high-percentage shots, that you create good ball movement, good player movement. We are two transition teams. Arizona is great when they get in the open court. They finish really well. They pass really well. They run the lanes well. So do we. So hopefully we can get high-percentage shots. I'm hoping we don't have to rely on just jump shooting to win the game. But we are two teams that rely on trapping zones. Those type of defenses don't give a lot of good looks, so you're going to have to react well under pressure, off the bounce as well as with the pass.

Q. Last year Memphis had to answer questions about free throw shooting all through the tournament. It ended up hurting them a little bit. I guess now you're the team that carries the mantle who have the lowest percentage of the 16 teams left. Can you address that?

COACH PITINO: Well, it is a weakness of ours. We work very hard at improving it. It hasn't been a factor yet. It was a factor down the stretch for Memphis. It could be for us. We're going to have to stand up and make them certainly when it happens.

But there's nothing we can do in terms of dwelling on the negative. We're going to dwell on the positive of what we do well. If free-throw shooting comes into play, listen, free-throw shooting is a big part. We lost to Arizona in '97. One of the closest young men in my life Nazr Mohammed and I haven't talked to him since then. I'm only kidding (laughter). So I know what it is to miss free throws. It is part of the game. It's a big part of the game.

I was watching a game, Creighton/Kentucky the other night. The young man had two free throws. That was it. They could have iced the game. Missed them. I remember a game that Providence would have never made the Final Four in '87 if the young man from Austin Peay didn't miss those free throws. I remember carrying him out crying. I remember beating Washington when Darius Washington for the conference USA championship when he missed three, I believe with the game on the line. It happened us to in '97. It happens to everybody. It is a weakness you must overcome. That doesn't mean we can't make it in the stretch. Statistics don't always hold true in that area.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Jordan Hill and his development? He seems like he's somebody who has gotten better in increments.

COACH PITINO: Well, he's a very interesting basketball player. He's obviously picked very high on all the draft charts, if he does decide to go. He is a young man that just has gone the right way. Coaches have done a terrific job in helping him develop his skills. And he's a terrific turnaround jump shooter. Goes very well off his left shoulder. He draws charges, he blocks shots, he does them both. He's very long. He's a very talented young man and he's going to keep on getting better and keep improving. He's one of the better big men we will face this year. And we have faced some outstanding ones, playing in the Big East.

Q. Can you talk about Samardo Samuels. When you recruited him, you went to Jamaica. What were your impressions of where he's from and how that factors into his personality?

COACH PITINO: Samardo has improved personally as the year has gone on. He started out as a low post basketball player who played below the rim. The biggest task we had to convince him at the collegiate level he could no longer play laterally when he goes up. We had to correct that bad habit he had. The second thing he had to start doing is rebound the basketball. He was a very poor rebounder in high school. He's become an average to good rebounder, so not where we need him to be. But he has improved all phases of the game as the season has gone on. He's a terrific low post basketball player. He has a strong desire to win.

Going to Jamaica, I've been to Jamaica before. I visited Kingston when I was coaching Patrick Ewing with the Knicks. His address was Montego Bay, so you think it's not going to be too bad compared to Kingston. Once you get out of the resort area and get to the farmlands, it's a third-world country. The poverty is something to behold. He grew up in a very difficult environment with no indoor gymnasiums. We visited his playground where he started playing. Uneven concrete. The baskets were not 10 feet. One was, the other was lower. Incredible poverty. He came here, attended St. Benedicts, learned a lot about basketball from Danny Hurley, outstanding coach there. Danny did a great job in developing him. Now you understand why he's so hungry to make it in this game, because of where he's from and trying to help his family. It was a good eye awakening for me in understanding what he's all about. He's been terrific to coach.


Cardinal Authority Top Stories