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March 28, 2015

Wayne Blackshear

Montrezl Harrell

Rick Pitino


COACH PITINO: We realized two of the players up here, one has been part of multiple Final Fours, the other young man -- two of them have won a championship, and they know what this moment is all about. For Q, Terry, and Mangok, although Mangok witnessed it, it's a first for them. Just to understand, there's six guys in the locker room that don't have a clue what this would become if we are to win. So we're very excited. We're very pumped up. We know we're playing a great program, and we know we have to be on top of our game to get a victory.

Q. Montrezl, at this time last year, you were considering leaving school and going to the NBA. Obviously, you're here now. Part of that decision process, was it at least thinking about the opportunity to be here now with the opportunity to go to another Final Four?
MONTREZL HARRELL: Well, my decision to come back to school, I felt like it was best for me to come back to school and to work on my game. I felt like I had a lot of things in my game that I needed to work on before I really took that next step to the NBA. With the team I had coming back, I felt like we could make a strong run towards another national title and another National Championship. It's just a blessing to be back where I am and for us to be in this situation that we're in. We worked so hard throughout the whole year to get where we're at, and we really just don't want to go home early. So we've just got to make sure we do anything and everything in our power to make sure that we head to Indianapolis.

Q. Wayne, you have the chance to join exclusive program and get to your third Final Four. Is that something you think about? What would it mean to you personally if you guys could advance tomorrow?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: It would mean a lot. Luckily, I played on some great teams my last three years here, with a lot of great players, Russ, Peyton, Gorgui. I'm just grateful to be a part of those teams. We were successful throughout those years. If we can get one done tomorrow, and hopefully we can go into Indianapolis with another one.

Q. For Montrezl, Tom Izzo was in here a few minutes ago and said that he didn't want to show his players video of you so they wouldn't get nightmares last night. He said you can dunk with your ankles. I wonder if there's anything you've seen from Michigan State that would give you a similar concern.
MONTREZL HARRELL: We know that they rebound as a whole team. They send four people to the glass, and they shoot very quickly on the break, and they really shoot at a high rate from the three-point line. So we've got to treat this game just the way we did with NC State: Limit them to one tough shot. Get our hands up on the three-point line and rebound as a team like we did last night. We know they're going to try to shoot early on the break and get a lot of those shots back and send four people to the glass. We've got to make sure we put a body on somebody and make sure we give them one tough shot.

Q. For any of the players, what have the last 12, 24 hours been like for Anton after last night? How did he celebrate back at the hotel with you guys?
MONTREZL HARRELL: He was just really excited to be able to have his opportunity and have his name called. He said he just really went out there and just tried to do anything that he can to make sure he gave it his all. That's just the way Coach coaches. I feel like anybody he puts on the floor, they're going to come on the floor and give 110 percent, no matter who it is.

Q. Montrezl, you're a high-energy player. Branden Dawson at times can also be a high-energy player. How much are you looking forward to that matchup, and what problems does he present if you end up being on him?
MONTREZL HARRELL: Like I said, we know that they don't only send up four or five to the glass, they also send the guards to the glass as well. So we know we have to make sure we keep them off the glass. I haven't seen too many players play with the energy that I play. I don't take any plays off. I go in and make sure I play 110 percent every play. If he has as much energy as me, it should be a good game tomorrow. I don't see him running with as much energy as I have.

Q. Rick, with the amount of success that you've had since you've been at Louisville, are you at the point where every year, no matter roster turnover, problems, whatever have you, that you're expecting to be at this point on the doorstep of the Final Four?
COACH PITINO: You know what, I don't think you can expect it. I think you truly just live day to day in this coaching profession, and you just try to every single day get the most out of what you have. I don't think you look too far ahead and say, we can go. I think the most important aspect of any basketball team is to stay humble. I think, when you expect it, that's when you get knocked out. So I think humility is a major key to this basketball team. These guys haven't watched -- you asked the question about Dawson. They haven't watched a whole lot of tape on Michigan State yet. They haven't even gone through the personnel yet. We just looked at a few things this morning. This afternoon, after we're done with you, they'll watch it for the first time. So they don't know a whole lot about Michigan State except what we told them. So they'll see the players up close and personal. I happened to see them quite a few times, and they'll experience it a lot more. They don't know a whole lot about them right now. So I don't expect anything except getting through the day the best we can in terms of improving the guys.

Q. Rick, you guys, you and Michigan State, Tom Izzo particularly, had two memorable NCAA Tournament meetings: One whereby seeding they upset you, the other whereby seeding you upset them. What is it about Tom Izzo's teams and your teams seem to be almost a test of will when you guys meet up?
COACH PITINO: Well, it always comes down to -- especially with one-day prep, it always comes down to trying to take away two or three of the strengths of the other team. The team that can do that is going to win the game. We know how good they are. They've had seven, I think, overtime games. They took Notre Dame at Notre Dame into overtime without one of their better players, I believe. And they took Wisconsin in the championship to overtime, actually had the game won. So we know they're a great team. Were they mis-seeded? Anytime you play the type of schedule that Michigan State plays, you're going to come away with a loss, but you're going to have the ability to be right where they are right now because competition makes you better. So we know they're a great team. There's no question in our minds. Our players don't know it yet, but before they go to bed tonight, they'll know it.

Q. Rick, Tom Izzo referred to your zone as "crazy". That was his word. How often do other teams attempt what you're doing on defense? And is there an advantage for you against teams that have never seen it before?
COACH PITINO: Well, Mick Cronin did it earlier this year. He called me early in the year, and we talked a little bit about it. He said, how tough is it to teach your guys? I said, it's like anything else, repetition is the key. Obviously, it changes based on scouting, based on what the other team does, and it always morphs into something different, predicated on what the other team does. Last night we did a very good job with it except they can make long threes. Now you're going against a team that shot 27 threes last night. Everybody expected Oklahoma to be the team that shoots it really well. Well, Michigan State shoots it quick. The thing that's misrepresented about them, they're a great transition team. They shoot the three in transition, and they chase the ball on the backboard very well. So it's a very tough game to match up with with one-day prep. The good thing is they have one-day prep. We're playing half-court offense in the last two weeks about as well as we've played all year, and that's a good thing for us.

Q. Rick, I think people look at people like yourself and Tom Izzo and wonder how you kind of ride the roller coaster and the ebb and flow of the season to emerge here. I guess the question just is, how do you it?
COACH PITINO: Well, I think in today's basketball world, the highs are really high and the lows are really low. I thinks that's the key to managing success is really don't get too low because you've been through it before. Especially when you're in an environment like Louisville or, I'm sure, Michigan State, where the fans get so paranoid about one or two losses. They just get very, very upset in their minds, like the season's going to end. And we know -- at least I know, being a professional basketball coach -- and you see it all the time in sports. You just see -- my mind's so fried right now. I can't think of the great quarterback from Green Bay -- Aaron Rodgers said to his fans, "Just relax. We're going to be fine. Just relax." You always see that in sports today. People see it. Brady said, "We're going to be fine," and they win the Super Bowl. They say he's slipping at the beginning of the year when they had one or two losses. People panic. I think coaches, because we've been through it so much, we just don't panic with losing. I'm most concerned when I'm up at halftime, not when I'm down at halftime. When you're up, players think it's going to be easy. The other guys, coach is tearing the paint off the wall to get his players ready for those first five minutes. So I wasn't concerned about being down to them yesterday.

Q. Can you, just from the basketball perspective, as maybe fans or outside viewers see this, as two programs that have had a lot of success, two coaches who have had a lot of success, and two teams who have had their troubles this year and overcome them, can you see the intrigue as to what this matchup might be tomorrow?
COACH PITINO: What I told our team, I think adversity always makes you strong. If everything just keeps going your way, and then when something doesn't go your way, you don't know how to handle it. Our team really knows how to handle adversity, and we've had a lot of it this year. It's just part of a normal family situation. Guys have stepped up. Like I'm kind of amazed at what Quentin Snider has done, being just unflappable and thrown into a situation he didn't expect, but he didn't miss a beat. So I think teams that have adversity, if they handle it well, they become stronger. If they don't handle it well and they start pointing fingers and making excuses, they go the other way. The ones that own up to their mistakes, handle the adversities, overcome it and become stronger.

Q. Tom was clear about what he enjoys and respects about what you do in coaching. Flip that. What do you enjoy and respect about what he does with his program?
COACH PITINO: We sit at a lot of AAU camps and talk a little bit. We're very similar in a lot of regards. We don't believe in Twitter. We don't believe in too much social media. We're kind of old fashioned in that regard, but we're still young at heart in a lot of different ways. So our similarities in the way we run our programs, I think, are very stark. I'm a big fan of his. Always been a big fan because he stands for the right principles in our sport, does it the right way. He really loves his players, coaches them the right way. Makes them mentally and physically tough. When they leave, they're tough in business. They're tough in sports. He believes in education, all the things that I admire.

Q. Coach, a lot of times you'll hear players say, when they're matched up against a great player, sometimes it can bring that little something extra out of them. Wonder if that carries over to coaches. When you see coaches on the other side, does that bring anything out of you?
COACH PITINO: Just the respect level of the way they play. Coaches are overrated a little bit in that regard come game time. The players really have to -- guys like Anton Gill last night, he comes in and turns around important moments for us. Always somebody rises to the occasion. But you know when you go in -- I've had the distinct pleasure in my life, I remember coaching against Frank McGuire in his last home game in South Carolina. I coached against Dean Smith. I've coached against so many great coaches that I've admired, and Tom Izzo is in a class with all of them because of the way they run their programs and the way they care for their players. So I'm honored to be playing Michigan State and what they represent, but I don't think you look down the sidelines and say anything except the game's not going to end with a Tom Izzo team until the last possession. You know that. They're not going to give in. They're not going to cave.

Q. With Montrezl, he said he came back, Rick, to improve his game. In what specific ways have you seen him improve? Does he compare to any previous players you've had maybe who went on to the NBA?
COACH PITINO: No. He has a little Kenneth Faried in him. But he's really improved his ball handling, his passing, and his 16-foot jump shot. Somebody said the other day, reading a scouting report that somebody said about him, they said, he still hasn't learned to shoot the three. I don't know what pro team would want to draft Montrezl Harrell to shoot the three. It's bizarre. This was actually a legitimate pro guy saying that. I mean, you're drafting -- right now at the Denver Nuggets, "Come on, Faried, get out there and shoot the three." It just doesn't make any sense to me. You're getting a slasher, a dunker, a great athlete who stays on the glass. It's very similar to the young man with the Clippers, DeAndre. You have to draft accordingly, and what you need. You need energy, athletic, shot blockers, that's what you draft. If you want him to shoot 3s, then you don't have that type of athlete. So sometimes it's so hypocritical when they say those things. It just doesn't make any sense to me at all.

Q. Rick, considering everything this team has gone through off the court and the challenges as well on the court, are you surprised to be sitting there?
COACH PITINO: You know, I remember my first few years at Boston University. We're going to make the tournament. We're going to get there. And the chances, they hadn't been to a tournament in 15 years. You always just want to get into Tournament. You take nothing for granted that you could be here at this point. But once you get to the Sweet 16, it really becomes fun. The first two rounds are nerve-racking. Especially the opening round for me is a nightmare because you're scuttling and looking through all this stuff, and you don't know a whole lot about the opponent. You haven't seen them on television. Then the second round, obviously, we played a great Northern Iowa team. We were as well prepared as any team could possibly be for that game because of the amount of respect. And last night we're playing. But it's more fun when you get to the Sweet 16 because it really takes on -- you know you're two games away from the Final Four. Now you know you're one game away from the Final Four. If you get there, you know you're two games away from the National Championship. So it keeps building and building and building, and you get more excited as it goes along. I didn't expect -- I'm not surprised. I didn't expect it. All you hope to do is just -- our one goal was to get a double bye in the ACC. We wanted to get a double bye. We did it. And now we're one game away from the Final Four.

Q. Rick, just to follow up on what you were saying before, the intensity of the fan base where you are. What is it about the state of Kentucky that breeds such great programs? I'm from the same part of the world that you are. What will it take to get college basketball really back on the map from our home turf?
COACH PITINO: That's interesting because I grew up on 26th Street on the east side of Manhattan to like age eight, nine, then moved to Queens at 14, and then moved out to Long Island. Actually commuted one year and then moved out for three years. I never paid any attention to college basketball. It was just the New York Knicks. St. John's was not in the Big East during those times. You knew a little bit about North Carolina, but outside of that, college basketball was just not too big. Then the Big East came into play, and then St. John's became good. P.J. took Seton Hall to the Final Four one year. Like anything else, it's where the high school players are. This is a little fascinating. I lived in Long Island those three years, and there were 1.5 million people. There were over 30 Division I high school basketball players that went on to college my senior year. I bet you can't get five now out of the population being double, three million people on Long Island. Why is that? Affluence, lacrosse, soccer. Affluence leads to lacrosse. Soccer comes into play. Less people play basketball. So the population doubled, and you can't get five Division I athletes from Long Island. Long Island Lutheran was coming. St. Agnes was coming. St. Anthony's. They were all coming with Division I players. To get it going, it starts locally and bridges out. Kentucky, think about this. Kentucky and Louisville are always top three in attendances. We've been the number one revenue producer in college basketball 13 straight years by $20 million. We have no professional sports. So I grew up a Knick fan because that's the only team you rooted for. In Kentucky, what pro team do you root for? I don't know. They could care less about that. You're either a Wildcat or a Cardinal. So it's just different. It's a different culture all together. College basketball in our state -- and at one time Western Kentucky was very big as well. So college basketball is just gigantic. I think, when you keep your local talent home and you get the Mark Jacksons and the Berrys and the Mullins and those guys. St. John's was a lot of fun back then. They'll get it going again. They've just got to keep some of the local product home, but the local product has sort of not been as big as it once was.

Q. Just to follow up on that, obviously, St. John's has a coaching opening. I know you're concerned about your own team, but do you think they'd be better hiring sort of a young go-getter, recruiter type or an older, more established guy linked to 1985 perhaps?
COACH PITINO: College coaching is a lot different than pro coaching. Pat Riley leaving the booth, going into coaching, Steve Kerr, it's a little different. College coaching is all about recruiting. It starts with recruiting. So whoever they hire, if he has the potential to be a great recruiter, regardless of how much he knows about basketball -- because you've got to be on the phone with AAU coaches. You've got to get in at 6:30. You've got to work until late at night. So you've got to understand the dynamics of it. Now, there could be a guy out there like that. There could be -- I couldn't even suggest who would be that type of person. But the dynamics of it, you have to understand, college is so different than the pros. You've got to understand the game. The recruiting game is what it's all about. There's a reason why Kentucky's Kentucky. Not only are they well coached, recruiting is a big part of that, and they get the best players. You've got to go out there, and it's a whole different animal. I've coached at both levels. You're dealing with a different animal all together.

Q. You are 12-1 in Sweet 16 games, which is a fairly remarkable occurrence. Can you attribute that to anything? Is it your preparation, staff? Obviously, you've had terrific players, but just talk about that.
COACH PITINO: If the NCAA hadn't messed up and put us with Kentucky last year, we could have been 13, but they had to get a lot of people and make money. You know, I really don't know how to answer it. I think preparation has a lot to do with it, but it comes down to the culture that you set up with players. I think we have a really good culture right now at Louisville. We started it about six, seven years ago, and it's plastered over our shirts. Louisville first. Everything is done for the name on the front, and nothing is done for the name on the back. And if everything's done for the name on the front, the back will prosper someday. So that is what we believe in. I'm sure Michigan State believes in it. I'm sure all of these teams that are left believe in that. So it's just what we believe in. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason why we're whatever our record is in that situation. I've just been -- there's only been one major, major surprise in my life in this game, and that was '87 with Providence. That was the only major surprise I've had. Maybe 2005 with Louisville, also, but outside of that, there haven't been any shocks in my life.

Q. If you could please describe what Rozier brought to the team last night during the game.
COACH PITINO: Well, he wasn't feeling well, and he had a real bad cold. So I knew he was going to be a little short of breath. But he's an amazing basketball player because he's really tough. He's a great athlete in the open court, but for a guard to get 14 rebounds and the way he goes about it is gigantic. He has really been fun to coach. He competes every day. He acts like a professional. Everybody in Louisville always says, is he coming back? Is he coming back? The more I say, "He's not coming back," if he has one mediocre game, "He's coming back." And I keep telling them, "He's not coming back." He deserves a shot. He gives us so much, and he's such a good athlete. I think he's going to be a tremendous pro because what he can do with a 24-second clock. He can play very fast. He's got a lot of -- everybody knows he mimics D-Wade all the time. Every time he drives to the basket, he's on the floor, just like D-Wade. I tell him, "You're going to be hurt just like D-Wade if you keep doing that." He loves D-Wade and tries to mimic him all the time. He's just a special basketball player. And the nice thing about these guys, when you see it happen, Terry was a very easy recruit to get. He wasn't a top 50 player, neither was Montrezl Harrell. Russ Smith was a two-star athlete. So when you see that sometimes and they become first team college All-Americans and we're sitting here and getting all the fruits of their labor, it's a lot of fun to see. Terry was someone who really basically chose us. He wanted to come to Louisville, and it was exciting to have him. He'll move on to better pastures after this. I've been very blessed to have coached him for two years.
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