Here’s what Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and his players had to say about their upcoming match-up with Michigan.
Q. For Anas and Ray, what stands out on film and what you saw yesterday from Michigan, specifically their offense?
ANAS MAHMOUD: They shoot the ball really well, all five positions. Watching film yesterday, we realize we have to limit their attempt, not even contest it. We have to make them do something else other than shoot the 3.
RAY SPALDING: Very similar to what Anas said, they’re a very well shooting basketball team. They play very aggressive. Defensively, they’ve gotten better defensively, coach said. We’re looking forward to attacking them.
Q. V.J., rough start in the game yesterday. How important will it be to reverse that and avoid that in tomorrow’s game against Michigan?
V.J. KING: I think we kind of started off slow just because kind of the first game of the tournament, just jitters. I feel like that lasted throughout the whole first half, but we definitely picked it up and started playing our game.
We have to get off to a fast and a good start this game because if we get down to a team like Michigan, they’ll really put it on it, and it will be hard to come back if we dig a hole like that. It’s important to start out strong and start out focused.
Q. How have you guys fared, in your minds, against in type of team that relies on the 3? Do you think it’s a good matchup for you?
V.J. KING: Definitely. They play at sort of the pace we like to play at with the way they shoot the ball, but it’s going to be difficult for us to guard that. We have to, like Anas said earlier, limit the attempts and lock in on defenses. Offense comes and goes. If we play the defense we know how to play every single game, we have the best chance to win.
ANAS MAHMOUD: Just like V.J. said, they play similar game tempo. They don’t push the pace too much, but they’re really opportunistic. If they’re open, they’re going to take the shot. Just like V.J. said, it is going to come down to defense. We’re going to get more stops and we are going to attack them and transition.
RAY SPALDING: Just like what Anas and V.J. said, they’re similar to our tempo, the game we like to play. I think really shoot the ball well. I think the way we play defense and how we’re going to lock in today with the scouting in practice today, we look forward to trying to stop that.
Q. Out of curiosity, Rick Pitino compared them to the Golden State Warriors. Who would you compare your team to, what NBA team, in terms of style?
RAY SPALDING: In terms of style is a good question. I’m more of a Sacramento Kings fan. I don’t know that we compare to the Sacramento Kings. Let’s go with the Cavs.
ANAS MAHMOUD: It’s tough to compare, you know, college to elite, especially when you’re focus so much on the defense. I don’t think people in the NBA focus as much on defense as college basketball do.
We always talk that we try to pass the ball as well as the Spurs basketball and move the basketball well. So I hope we can reach that level.
V.J. KING: I have no idea. I don’t want to throw out a team because I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but just go with what those two said.
Q. Obviously, your coach has been coaching these tournaments since long before you guys were born. Do you feel that when he’s preparing you and talking to you? Do you get that sense of just that vast knowledge and experience he’s bringing to this?
V.J. KING: Definitely, just because it’s definitely tournament time. He’s definitely turned it up a notch. With him, it’s always the same with how we prepare, with how he coaches, with his intensity and passion. It’s the same with every team. If we were playing the first game for exhibition game to a game like we’re playing tomorrow, it’s always the same.
He’s definitely turned it up a notch because he wants to win. He sees the potential in us and knows how far we can go if we just play the way we’re capable of.
ANAS MAHMOUD: Since I’ve been here, everything
Coach P told us in practice happens in games. Whenever we have a bad practice, he comes up to us, you guys are going to have a bad game tomorrow because you had a bad practice yesterday. It always happens.
We kind of picked up on that, and we just listened to him as well as we could. Like V.J. said, he really picked it up going into the ACC tournament after our first loss playing last week before the NCAA started. Because he knows how far we can go and just he’s really picking it up on us.
Q. Describe the processes you guys follow in one of these tournament-type atmospheres. When you come off a game, describe what you do when you’ve got a game the next day or as is the case with Michigan tomorrow, describe the processes you guys go through.
In other words, do you start preparing for a team like Michigan anticipating you’ll be playing them, or do you wait until after you play the game and start preparing and then what that preparation consists of?
RAY SPALDING: With Louisville, preparation is very key in this program. We go by three Rs; refuel, refresh, recover. We really focus on that.
Once we won the game yesterday, it was onto the next one. So we dial into who we’ll play, who we could potentially play. Like before we even came to the tournament, just preparation the coaches were going through and the scouting report they have on several different teams we could play, it was crazy, but we’re really prepared well.
ANAS MAHMOUD: We never really kept any team — coming in last week, we looked at the bracket. We see who we potentially can play, but we never really prepare for any other team other than Jacksonville State. Nothing is guaranteed when you go to the tournament. You have to win every game.
You have to play game by game. Last night, after the game, we went home and ate dinner and started watching film on Michigan. Today, we have a scouting practice and just that’s how our program is. We don’t skip any games, and we literally prepare for every single game.
Q. Ray and V.J., your minutes seem to fluctuate from game to game. Yesterday, you played a lot. Do you think it is matchup-based or how you perform in practice? What determines your role and how do you see it from game to game?
RAY SPALDING: Really, I don’t know. That’s a good question. I guess however coach is feeling with the game, how the game style is played and how the game is going on with substitutions and minutes. It’s upon him. I don’t look into the minutes and points being scored. My jersey number is called, and I’m told to go in, and I look to produce in some type of way.
V.J. KING: Like Ray said, it’s not really about how we perform in practice, but just how the game’s going on with foul trouble and the flow of the game. Like he said, whenever our names are called, just be ready for however long it is for us to come in and try to contribute in the best way we can for however long we’re out there.
Q. As one of the pioneers of the use of 3-point shots in this tournament or in the game in general, what do you make of the continuing evolution of that, where Michigan shot more 3s than 2s, both the college and pro level? Are you surprised it took this long?
COACH PITINO: The amazing thing to me is you look at the size of the players that Michigan has, and they shoot it like backcourt players. That’s what’s really coming on.
I made a concentrated effort this past year in our recruiting is just recruit bigs who could shoot because we don’t have bigs who can shoot now. So we signed kids that number one priority is they can shoot the 3-point shot because it has evolved where 6’10”, 6’11” guys no longer want to play in the post.
The other thing that’s really interesting about the pros is the great centers are all losing in basketball. Dwight Howard’s winning a little bit now and, certainly, he’s up there. But most of the true centers are not winning.
You look at New Orleans and Sacramento before Cousins left, and it’s the small teams that shoot the 3s that are all winning. So it has evolved into — from 1987 to now, it’s gone through a great change.
Q. A follow-up to that, talked to John Beilein about the college game trending toward some of the NBA, and he said he wouldn’t be in favor of a 24-second shot clock. Want to know your thoughts on that.
COACH PITINO: I think it wouldn’t be good. I’m in favor of it because I’ve coached in the pros. But it wouldn’t be good for the game because it would take away from teaching the fundamentals of basketball, the art of passing the right way.
In the pros, they take a lot of challenged shots, and they’re able to make it. I remember somebody saying one time, Allen Iverson’s personal wasn’t very good. I said, yeah, but it’s because with five seconds to go, everybody’s playing him. He’s got to take very difficult shots.
And I wouldn’t want that to come into our game where everybody’s got to take a difficult, rushed shot all the time. 30 seconds is, I think, just the right time.
Q. Rick, you’ve had great runs in March. Michigan’s on one right now. Actually dates back a little into February. How would you define what a March momentum run is like?
COACH PITINO: Well, they have all the ingredients that add up to great runs. They shoot well from the foul line. They shoot well from the field. They’re a much-improved defensive team as the season’s gone on. They’re extremely well coached at the fundamentals of the game, and then they have as tough a point guard as there is in the college game from a mental standpoint.
So they’re got all the ingredients to understand why they’re making such a strong run.
Q. Rick, you’ve had a couple of very memorable NCAA tournament games against John Beilein teams. Does this team play like his other ones? Is his style pretty much continuous, or are there changes?
COACH PITINO: Well, that’s the genius about John Beilein is we prepared a different way to play Jacksonville State. This team that we’ve had, and I’ve never done this before since I’ve been a coach, we’ve almost — against Kentucky, we played a matchup zone. Against Indiana, we played a switching man. Against Jacksonville State, against Wichita State, against Purdue, we played everybody almost different every single night out.
We had a week to prepare because we lost in the opening round of the tournament. With one-day prep, this is about as difficult a task as I’ve faced since I’ve been a coach because of the way they play.
There’s nobody similar this year, and we had the number one schedule in the nation that I can say plays like Michigan. You have to beat them, because if you put them to the line, they’re going to make their free throws. If you give them open looks, they’re going to make their 3s. If you overplay them, they’re going to go back door.
So they’re truly unique. And with one-day prep, it’s very difficult. And they only give you an hour and a half practice too.
Q. Rick, in the same vein as that earlier question about March. It’s been 30 years since your run down at Providence. What were the endearing moments and memories you have from that run 30 years ago?
COACH PITINO: Well, it’s one of my favorite teams of all time. I’ve said this about 30 times to the local media, the last two years have reminded me of 1987 as people.
It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the type of people. Damien Lee and Trey Lewis coming in and the guys I have now remind me of my Providence team as people.
The Providence thing was truly Cinderella. I look back, and it’s molded my career in thinking that anything is possible because when I first took over at Providence, I remember as if it’s yesterday, sitting with Dick McGuire and Fuzzy Levane as an assistant coach of the Knicks watching Providence College lose by 30 points, and they carried Joe Mullaney off the court, and they lost by 30 points.
And Dick McGuire said to me, he said, you’re not considering taking that job. I said, well — because I had both of them watch Providence. They were losing their three good players. Billy Donovan did not get in the game or play. And I was meeting Lou Lamoriello, the A.D., at the Abbey Tavern in New York City, a block from where I grew up.
I’ll never forget it, because Dick, Fuzzy and I talked about you cannot take this job. It’s the worst job. Seton Hall and Providence were dead-last place since the inception of the Big East, and I knew I couldn’t turn this program around. It was too, too far down.
Lou Lamoriello sat there with his head down when I walked in, and he said, this happens every year how people come down by train, and they go home after the first round and lose by 30 points.
And he said, but I’m going to change it. I’m going to change the whole culture. I’m hiring you tonight. And I already made up my mind, sitting with Dick and Fuzzy, there’s no way I can ever coach this team. Immediately, I said yes, I’ll take the job.
I never forgot that moment in my life because he patronized me for one sentence, and I took the job without talking contract or money. And that ’87 Providence team, I’ll never forget because it made me so positive in thinking anything’s possible in the game.
If that team could go to a Final Four, anything’s possible. And if Billy Donovan can go from a 190-pound basketball player who I was beating 15-0 every day one-on-one to an All-American and I couldn’t even carry his shoes after two years was quite special.
Q. Rick, I wonder if you could describe for me a good challenge of a 3-point shot. I see a lot of players that think they’re far enough out or whatever and the ball goes in and coaches get on them. What are you talking —
COACH PITINO: I was just watching West Virginia/Notre Dame and the West Virginia guard was taking a shot at least 15 feet behind the line. There was no doubt in his mind it was going in.
You see that a lot with Michigan. I happened to be watching the second half with the players in the locker room. I think they were 4 for 15 maybe in the first half. I forgot the number. We all sat there with our mouths open watching one shot after another from six, seven feet behind the line go in.
Immediately, I saw the team rooting for Oklahoma State.
Q. Covering Michigan sports, I’d imagine that most Michigan fans, especially the casual Michigan fans are quite familiar with your championship team from a couple years ago when you played Michigan.
So maybe you can talk a little bit about how your team plays now, how you might contrast that team and this team; and then, also, the two Michigan teams, the one from back then and the one which you see now.
COACH PITINO: Well, as I said in Boston, Gorgui Dieng is not walking through that door and Peyton Siva and Russ Smith aren’t either. It’s a far different basketball team that we have now compared to that ’13.
I would say Michigan, in style of play, there’s no Trey Burke, and there’s some of the players that they had right now who are playing in the NBA are far different.
That doesn’t mean that they’re not better or as good. It’s just far different. It’s a much different Michigan team in ’13 than they are now.
So we’re both different, and we obviously had more seasoning. We had a team that was coming off a Final Four. We went to the Final Four in ’12, and then we came back. So this is a team that didn’t play in the tournament last year and only had one nine-point scorer returning in Quentin Snider.
So much different team, and I’m sure John would say the same.
Q. Rick, you have at least a passing relationship with one Big Ten coach who has played against Michigan. Did you get a scouting report from that coach?
COACH PITINO: Well, he’s on his way in here, and I was actually at the Michigan/Minnesota game live where Minnesota won in overtime. Their power forward, center, two-guard, whatever they call him, made a shot from 15 feet behind the line to put it into overtime as if it was a layup.
So I happen to know Michigan very well, and Richard said, you know, he gave me his thoughts on the game. And I said, well, they’ve won 10 out of the last 12. And since the time I’ve seen them, they’ve gotten a lot more confident and a lot better. And I think it really stems from the play of their point guard.
Q. Rick, you’ve been obviously offered a lot of jobs over the years. Do you ever think back on the Michigan conversations with Bill Martin and wonder what-if, or does your mind not go there?
COACH PITINO: You know, I’ve been really happy at Louisville. Michigan has done quite well for themselves. So it was a time that — I actually took the Michigan job that morning, and my wife did not want to go for a variety of reasons. She said I was making a decision based on the wrong factors, and she was right, because I never — I’ve never been on the campus before. I didn’t know the athletic director, and I was taking a job blind to it all.
But I thought it was a great job, great university, academically as well as athletically. Just wasn’t the right fit for me.
Q. Rick, at this stage, how important is execution of whatever the plan is and how important is just guys using their God-given talent to make it happen?
COACH PITINO: You know, Jerry, they’re so unique, it’s really difficult to gauge because they can beat you so many different ways. They can beat you with cuts. They can beat you on the break. They’re a terrific foul shooting team.
Like I said, they’re a much improved defensive team from the time I watched them at Minnesota to even now. People like to say it’s because of the trauma they went through with the plane. I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I really do think adversity does make you stronger, certainly, like that.
I think they just keep evolving into a better basketball team in all phases of the game. They can beat you so many different ways. That’s what makes it difficult going into this basketball game.
We have a scheme that we think will be successful, but you just don’t know because of their shooting ability.
Q. Two-part question, Rick. How has the limit on the shot clock influenced how much you use the press and how effective is the press at inhibiting 3-point shooting just because you don’t get quality shots?
COACH PITINO: I would say this year, I’ve seen more teams, what I call, soft press either 2-2-1 or 1-2-2, like a Villanova type 1-2-2 than any time in my coaching career because everybody is trying to get people to take six to eight seconds in the backcourt.
So when they come down, they have 20 seconds to execute or 18 seconds to execute. That’s why I always felt pressing in the pros is much better than college because of the 24-second clock.
If you can get the team to take six to eight seconds in the backcourt in the pros, basically you’ve got a 14-second offense because they’re not going to let it go down. The difficulty is you play 82 games, and it’s difficult.
I did it with the Knicks because we played ten guys every night. So it’s a factor in the game, but Shaka Smart tried to press Michigan at VCU, and it didn’t work too well. We didn’t press too much in ’13. We would change a little bit. We didn’t press too much.
When you have a great shooting, passing team, pressing can be a big danger. We had to do it last night to beat Jacksonville State. But we’re probably not going to press Michigan too much in this game. Tell John that so he doesn’t work on his press offense.
Q. Rick, a lot of your players, when they were up there before, were saying we have to limit their 3-point attempts. Not makes. The attempts. They were 16 for 29. How confident are you you can take them out of what they want to do by limiting their attempts?
COACH PITINO: It’s difficult because when you do that and you crowd a 3-point shooter — now, if they don’t put it on the floor and they’re just a spot-up shooter, but that’s not the case with them. They put it on the floor great and then they force you to help. And then when you rotate, they find their open people.
So it takes good balance, good intelligence. You’ve got to stay up all night, and your players got to really be tuned into film work more than practice in seeing how they get it and what they do.
This team is very difficult to go against. If you said to me right now out of all the teams in college basketball, who are the two most difficult teams to play against with one-day prep, it would be Michigan and West Virginia because it’s the first time I’ve seen a team press nonstop on misses. So they’re both very — with one-day prep. Now, if you have four days, it’s a lot easier.
Q. Rick, just generally, not specific to your game tomorrow, time and score considerations, is that becoming less of a thing? Are players not going with time and score as much as they used to?
COACH PITINO: I’d say that’s true. Especially in Oklahoma State/Michigan yesterday. I think a lot of teams are going to go 2 for 1 at the end of the half. Q told me yesterday when he was coming in the game, he said do you want me to go 2 for 1? I said yes, go. The 3-point shot, I don’t think I’ve seen it one time this year, which is kind of unusual, where you’re up three and you foul the other team and put them to the line. I haven’t seen it one time. I don’t know if all of you have.
I’ve seen that a lot in past years, but I didn’t see it one time in a game this year.
Q. (No microphone)?
COACH PITINO: I think that although announcers say it’s a good percentage, I would never do it because I’ve got really thin-legged guy who get pushed underneath on free throws, and I would never do it. I lost a game myself at Kentucky with Mashburn doing it that way. I wouldn’t do it, but the announcers always make such a big deal.
I didn’t see one game, and I watch a lot of games, this year where that came about.
Q. It’s one thing you talk about the ’87 team in a room where there’s a lot of people old enough to remember it. How do you balance, when you’re talking to your guys who are 20, 21 years old, using your experience, stories of past teams and players, without them kind of rolling their eyes and thinking you’re talking about old stuff?
COACH PITINO: I tell them stories about Bernard King all the time, and I realize as I’m telling them that, they have no clue to who Bernard King was. My point, what I was trying to make to them was that Bernard, when we came down and we ran our offense, he demanded the basketball, kept yelling ball, give me the ball, give me the ball, almost every play down the court. We had a play called power right, power left. That means you get Bernard King the ball. He demanded it in the way he posted up that the guards throw him the ball.
I was trying to teach the guys post offense, they’re not throwing you the ball because you’re not demanding the basketball like Bernard King. I told them his background. He led the team in scoring. He had three straight 50-point games in Texas. Now we’ve done a great job of making sure the guards are not selfish, but they will ignore you.
Now, you yell out ball three times, they’ll be embarrassed that they didn’t throw you the ball. So we’ve done a good job with that. I tell them old stories about players all the time. They just met Grant Hill. You would think they would know all about Grant Hill because it hasn’t been that long. I certainly remember him.
So I tell them pro stories all the time about guys, and we have a good time with it. They’re a good group of guys. There are certain teams I’ve coached I wouldn’t tell stories to. This group is pretty good.
Q. Speaking of stories, Coach Beilein has been talking about his team about comparing them to like the ’05 team and that was the team that you guys came back 20 down in the Elite Eight. So kind of watching the film, I don’t know if you’ve been able to see the comparison, but what about this current Michigan team kind of reminds you of that John Beilein team?
COACH PITINO: I forgot about that. It does in a way. I’ll never forget that game. Out of all the games I’ve ever coached, that one sticks out to me the most of any game I’ve ever coached because we were playing basically seven players. We never pressed. We never played man. We just played a two-three bumping zone, not even a matchup. Our seventh man, Otis George, had a stress fracture, so he didn’t practice.
So as soon as we found out we were playing them, we knew we couldn’t play them man-to-man. We had to play zone. If I remember correctly, they had 11 3s. We were down 20. We cut it to 12 or 13 right before the half. They made 11 3s. John’s son made a 3 from the Lobo. And I went in at halftime, we had to walk up the ramp at the pit, and we moved all the chairs. And I said, guys, you’re not going to believe this, we can’t play them zone. We’re going to get killed.
We moved all the chairs and went through the Princeton offense of back doors, running the guy into our chest. And we went out with one or two minutes on the clock, and we had a walk-through in the locker room. We played man-to-man for the first time that year, and we were lucky to win it in overtime.
But we could not play them zone. They just torched us in the way they shot the ball. So I agree with you, there’s a lot of similarities to the way they shot it and the way this team shoots it.