Our team is very excited to be here. We've got great respect for Louisville. This is going to be for us a great challenge to play against them and Rick Pitino's team, but I like my team. I'm excited about where our team has come to. We've gotten better throughout the year.
I think we're playing some of the best basketball that we've played all year in the last eight or ten games. It's exciting to be here with a team that's playing really well. We've got a great challenge. We understand it. We know it, and we're really looking forward to it.
Louisville's personnel has changed a little bit since the last time you played them, and their strategy has changed, too. What have you noticed differently about the way they're playing now versus the way you played them on Valentine's day?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think the biggest thing, without Chris Jones, is the other players, whether it's Rozier or Blackshear, even Snider and Harrell some. They're all more aggressive offensively. I think Rozier is the biggest one. He's the guy that seems to hunt for shots more. They go to him more. I think he realizes he needs to score and step his game up.
Sometimes, when you lose a good player, especially a guy offensively that can do what Chris Jones could do, those other guys, they know they have to play at a higher level, and that's probably the biggest thing that I'm noticing watching them.
How is your team different since that game? How have you evolved, and what are you doing better?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think we're defending much better than we did earlier in the year. In that game in Louisville, it was kind of a turning point for us. We changed our starting lineup; put Lennard Freeman in the lineup. Gives us a little more defense and rebounding.
I thought he helped us execute our offense a little better and get better shots. So I think from that point forward, at times we have really guarded people well. Not every game, but I do think it's helped us, especially here down the stretch.
Coach, since we are in Syracuse, want to get your reaction to a week ago today, Coach Boeheim announcing he's got three years left. I know you guys have run into each other on the court several times. What's your reaction to that?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I've got great respect for Coach Boeheim, always have. I think he's one of the best our game has ever seen. I hate it for him. I hate it for their program that they're going through a difficult time. Again, just as a guy that's looked up to him, as a young coach throughout the years, and I've served on our Coaches' Association Board of Directors with him.
I've been involved with some other different committees with Coach Boeheim. So it's unfortunate, but they're going to make it through it. He's obviously very good. I think they're going to continue to be a good program and kind of move on from there.
Hey, Coach, at this time of the year, to play a team not only that you've played before already in the season but to play a fellow conference opponent, what's that like?
COACH GOTTFRIED: It's a little bit different in that they just joined the league this year, and we've only played them one time. So it's not like we play them twice every year for the last ten years.
But we do know them, and they know us. They know us a little bit better than they would if we were a team from the West Coast or maybe they hadn't seen this year, and the same for us. So I think that it makes the game a little bit more familiar, know their players a little bit better. Kind of have an idea of what they may or may not try to do during the game. But I don't know that it's like a typical conference game because they're new to the league, and like I said, we only played them one time.
Coach, can you get a sense of what it meant for your guys not only to win the first game of this that you played but the way you guys won it, with that big comeback, what did it do for the maturity of your guys, winning it that way?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, it gave us great confidence. It gave us an unbelievable lift. I think there was a time in the game against LSU, and probably most people that were watching the game probably felt we had very little chance. What I liked about it is our players never had that sense of, man, this thing is over, probably can't win this game. Every time-out was positive. Every time-out, you could still see great desire. We just weren't playing very well.
But when you win one like that sometimes, that can be a catapult for you. I was at UCLA in '95 when Tyus Edney went in 4.8 seconds, 94 feet, and sometimes there's a game like that gives you a whole different pep in the step with your team. So I thought we certainly played and came out from the very beginning of the next game much differently. Our guys seem to be a lot more confident and played very well against Villanova.
Can you describe in your words what you think Cat Barber has meant to your team since early February, after the struggles he's had after his friend's death?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think he's been terrific. What I like about Cat's play is he's turned it loose without the fear of making mistakes. Even though last year he split time with Tyler Lewis, and Tyler played pretty well. He's a little bit older than him. This year I thought that Cat, he wanted to try to be the perfect point guard all the time and kind of a cerebral guy.
There came a point where I felt with him you've just got to turn it loose. And for us to become a good team, you're the guy that's got to take it to another level. And the turning point was at Georgia Tech. I thought we played over there, and he had great speed up and down the floor. He made three-point shots. He played with confidence. I thought everything began to change right about that time. He's made a huge difference for us. Big-time difference in our team when he plays at a high level.
I wanted to ask you about Malik, maybe coming off his best game. When you were recruiting him, do you remember, what did you think made him such a good fit for your program? And secondly, has he maybe exceeded expectations that you had for him this year?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, when we recruited him, the thing that I fell in love with was his motor. He plays so hard. Every time I watched him play, so active, around the rim, running the floor, rebounding, scoring. I love that about him. Then once I got to know him a little bit better, we began to recruit him. He's one of those guys that's hard not to just fall in love with him as a person. Just a great guy that's fun to be around every day.
Always has a smile on his face every day. Not sure that I've been around him for one day when he hasn't walked in and kind of lit up the room with his personality. He's gotten better from the beginning of the year until now. He's improving. Early in the year, he seemed -- everything was going so fast. He just wasn't comfortable offensively, and now he's starting to get a little bit better there. So I think he's just had a great, great first year of college.
Mark, your guys seem to have an attitude of, people are still underestimating us, even at this point in the Sweet 16. Is that a message, and do they kind of play off of that?
COACH GOTTFRIED: It's not something we talk about. It's not something I talk about with our team, but they're like everybody else. They watch TV. They read the papers. They listen. I do think it's been a motivator for them. I don't think there's been any question about it. Our guys are competitors. They believe in themselves.
I think, to go win, like we did earlier, at Louisville or at Carolina or at Duke the way we beat them earlier in the year, there has to be a level of confidence, a swagger kind of thing with our team to do those things. I don't think you can walk into any of those situations and win without confidence. So we'll see what happens. I think that they have certainly heard and listened to the predictors.
As you look at the Louisville offense, not just the change of point guard, how different does the offense look to scout now versus when you played them back in February?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, it's different in that Rozier, to me, is the one guy that seems to be -- he seems to have taken his game one more notch up. And I think Snider has just gotten better with the more minutes he's had. He's more comfortable now. He's playing with confidence.
You know, they had a guy in there that was capable of getting 20, 25 on a given night. Like I mentioned earlier, when that guy then leaves, players understand it. They know, for us to win, we all have to be better. We all have to score more and be more efficient. So I just think they're different in that regard and that those other guys seem to be a little bit more aggressive.
Mark, when you first started recruiting Cat, do you call him "Anthony" at the beginning? How long did it take you before you started calling him "Cat"? And when's the last time you started calling him "Anthony"?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I don't think I ever called him "Anthony", not one time. He's the Cat Daddy to me. That's what I call him every day. When we started recruiting him and getting to know him, he's quiet at times, very quiet. He observes everything around him, but he's a fun guy to coach. He is.
He's as quick as anybody that I've had. I coached Mo Williams at Alabama, Tyus Edney at UCLA. Those guys had a different gear. But Cat's got that gear that sometimes you think he's going really fast, and then he's got a whole 'nother speed left in there. But he's the Cat Daddy.
Follow-up on Cat, the perception in Louisville is that it basically came down to you and Louisville and they pulled out. What's your view of his recruiting and how that wound up?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think there was a lot of schools recruiting him. It wasn't just the two of us. I don't know about all that kind of stuff. I don't know if I would agree with that. I know Kansas was involved. Alabama was involved. There was a lot of schools involved. We were obviously really excited to get him.
Coach, you spent some time in the State of Kentucky at Murray State. What do you remember about that time when you were there?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Loved it. Love Murray. I still follow them. Watched them last night; broke my heart. They got beat on a buzzer beater. Steve Prohm has done a great job. It's the great kind of basketball -- even though it's one of the smaller level basketball -- situations in the country. I did three years there. Loved it, loved every minute of it. And the State of Kentucky, the way that they love basketball, treat basketball in that state, people follow it. They're into it. It was a lot of fun.
Just to follow up on that, I'm interested, how much basketball do you watch during the Tournament? I know you're busy, but do you watch a lot of other games?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Oh, yeah, I'm a junkie like all the other ones. I watch them all. I watch them every night. I go home from practice and usually turn on the TV and watch games and stay up late and watch the West Coast games. I get to see a lot. I think most of us are that way. There's sometimes when it's time to turn it off; we've had enough. But I like to watch it. I like to watch all of it.