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March 17, 2012

Gorgui Dieng

Rick Pitino

Russ Smith


Louisville – 59
New Mexico - 56

COACH PITINO:  It was a movie a long time ago, I think won an Academy Award, you were too young for it, but it was called "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  And coaching this young man is going to make me be a star of remake of that movie.  When you coach Russ Smith you have a nervous breakdown on every possession.  He wasn't shooting the three well.  And to show you how dumb I am, I'm yelling, Take it, Russ.  But he always comes up big for us.  When we struggle for points he's always there.  I'm real proud of him.  He was a Camper of mine as a young man.
To show you how funny Russ is, I told him, Russ, any five‑ten guy from New York City can dunk a ball, just lay it up and put it in.  So I told him after the game, I said, Russ, why would you do that?  He said, Yeah, you're right, coach, I should never have put Vaseline on my hands before the game, it slipped out.  So this is what I'm coaching every day.
He really gave us a big lift when we needed it.  The young man next to me, he's played a lot of minutes, Gorgui Dieng.  He didn't make first, second, third team all Big East, but I can tell you something, he not only should have, but he's one of the best centers in the Big East, because he effects inside shot, whether he gets the block or not, against everybody.  And I'm real proud of his development as an offensive player as well as a defensive player.

Q.  We had the good fortune of sitting behind the Louisville bench, and saw some of the exchanges between you and coach.  How do you rebound from that?  There was one time he yanked you out of the game and 30 seconds later put you right back in.
RUSS SMITH:  I just asked one of the assistants what I did wrong, go over it.  And then I just cheer my teammates on and get right back to the game.  It's just a message he's giving me.  I listen to the message.  That's pretty much it.

Q.  Between the Big East tournament and these last couple of games, the last couple of games at the end of the season, is this the best sustained defensive stretch you've had all season?
RUSS SMITH:  Probably so.  I'm probably not the best one to answer that.  Probably coach is.  Do you think so, coach?
COACH PITINO:  You can answer that.
RUSS SMITH:  I think so.  We really locked into the scout.  We've been paying attention.  Going into the Big East, guys were focused.  I think this is the best defensive stretch.

Q.  Is your level of production offensively a mystery to you as well as everybody else?  When you score 30 against Kentucky and then a couple of nights later have two or three points.  Do you have any idea how it feels when the game starts what you're going to do, how many points you might score?
RUSS SMITH:  To be for real, huh‑uh.  Not really.  I just go look on the bench, and look and see what we need and if we need defensive energy, then I'm going to try to bring that.  If we need points, I'll try to do that.  If we need to settle down and give Peyton a breather and slow the tempo, I'll try to do that.
In the Big East I didn't necessarily score, I tried to effect the game defensively because we were scoring well.  I just try to do what I feel the team needs at the time.  And hopefully it will just work out.

Q.  Either one of you, I was at the Big East tournament last week, and you guys seem to have a pretty good relationship with your coach.  It seems genuinely unique.  He's glowing right now.  Can you speak to how that's developed and how it's integral to the team's success.  And clearly the looseness that is involved with this in this season.
GORGUI DIENG:  Coach, sometimes he's ‑‑ I don't know how to explain it, sometimes he goes crazy on us.  But off the court he's a really nice person.  I really like it a lot.  I don't think he's a coach for me, I treat him as a friend.  He shows us to do the right things, teach us how to be a gentleman in real life.  He teach a lot of things, not just about basketball, but in the real life.
RUSS SMITH:  Definitely.  Coach always tells me the story about how he was scoring out of high school and then when he was playing at the collegiate level he became a great passer, as well.  So it's just things that me and coach have a lot in common.  We're both from New York.  And I just like to learn from him and stuff.
And he's always telling me to make the right play.  And I try my best, but it sometimes doesn't work.  But as long as I'm trying and trying to keep coach happy, that's definitely what I'm satisfied about.  And I feel like I'm getting better, so he's definitely the person that I go to when I'm in trouble.  So I'm very happy to have a coach like Coach P.

Q.  Gorgui, what did you see on that play where Peyton drove the lane and then gave you that pass for the big dunk that pretty much sealed the win?
GORGUI DIENG:  I think he wanted me to set up a pick‑and‑roll, and he said don't think anything, just grab and dunk it.  So I tried to listen to him and do the right thing.

Q.  Can you talk about your relationship with Father Bradley and how he's affected you, both as a man and as a basketball coach?
COACH PITINO:  Well, Father sat with me for every game at Kentucky on the bench, and then we became very close friends.  And Father marries my children.  He baptizes my grandchildren.  He says the wedding for a lot of my friends.  He's very close with the players.  So he's more than just a priest; he's one of my better friends in life.
Almost every game he stays over at my house and we go downstairs and he likes red wine.  And we sit there and we just talk about life sometimes until 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, just sit there.  We've done that over and over and over for 15 years now.
So we're just great friends.  We just enjoy each other's company.  We do a lot of things together.  We're going down to Easter to Miami where I have a home and it's my family and him.  We're all very close, all my children and him.

Q.  On Wednesday you sat there and you were asked a bunch of times about pressure and about the last couple of years and so were your players, and even more of that on Friday.  Today you looked relieved.  Even though there's still a lot of work to be done, is there a sense of relief that you've gotten through this first weekend?
COACH PITINO:  You know, the young man who keeps asking that question from Louisville is not from Louisville, he's from ‑‑ are you from Syracuse?  He's from Southern California.  And he's very good at his job.  But he doesn't know the history of Louisville basketball.
Just two years ago we went back‑to‑back Elite 8's.  We won the regular season Big East championship and the tournament championship, just a couple of years ago.  And that was the toughest the Big East has ever been in the history of the game.  That was just two years ago.  So he doesn't understand the history of the game.
Yes, we did lose the last two years, we had a tough injury.  But that's going to happen.  I think you saw what happened with Duke and Missouri.  I'm relieved because I wanted this so much for the players.
For me, I say this with all humility, after I left the Celtics, I've had a large dose of that, for me I've had more fulfillment in the game of basketball than ten coaches combined.  But I've never had a group like this in my life.  I have to drive them beyond your wildest imagination.
There's 12 unbelievable guys that really pull together.  We've had three major knee injuries.  I wanted it for them because they've worked so hard and had so much adversity, and I wanted them to get the experience that I've been through.
What I told them as this tournament goes on, I say, Look, guys, you do all the hard work.  I don't do anything except go through the preparation, tell you what's going on, but you do all the work.  All I can tell you is what to expect each round and how it gets better and better.  And I wanted this for them.  So I'm relieved for them.
But now we keep talking about going to a Final Four and winning a championship, all teams talk that way.  So I'm relieved for them because I know ‑‑ I truly do have blinders on in my life for a lot of reasons outside of the game.  And to me, I could take criticism ‑‑ I coached the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks.  Just Philadelphia is missing in my life for the triple crown.  I can take an awful lot in my life.
But I wanted it for them badly, because I've never coached in the last three years groups like this character that they have.  We have a blast together away from the lines.  Between the lines I'm trying to driving them to limits they didn't think they could get to.
Russ Smith nobody wanted, I don't care what Russ tells you.  But here he is 33 against Kentucky, and he bails us out time and time again.  No Big East schools recruited him.  He's bailed us out.  Do you know how proud I am of him?  He's my MVP as a 7th grader at my camp.

Q.  Any better feelings toward the city of Portland after a successful weekend?
COACH PITINO:  I do love the city of Portland.  I love Seattle.  I love them both.  This really is one of the best cities in America.
But what makes any city great, and you all know this, is family and friends.  I absolutely love San Diego, I could live there tomorrow, but I have no family and no friends.  So what makes every place.  This is a great place.  The weather has been a little tough on us the past couple of days.  To show you how good it is, we're going to Phoenix now, we just checked.  I said, We're going to get some sun.  It's rainy and 54 degrees.  Tomorrow it's raining and 61 degrees.  It hasn't rained in Phoenix in 30 days.
I love Portland.  As a coach of the Knicks, always loved the city.  Everybody treated us great at the hotel.  The people were tremendous.  It is one of the best cities in the country.  It's just the weather sucks.  Outside of that, it's great.

Q.  When you break this one down, what were the key components to the victory?
COACH PITINO:  We were in control and we didn't block out on the free throw and they made a three.  Then we had a man open, Kyle Kuric was open on the inbound in the last two minutes.
And as we made this run, I think there's one reason, we've played good defense the whole year, but the one thing we tried to do, we felt we were physically weak and small, so we really guarded the paint well and we gave up a lot of 3's in the midpoint of the season.  When we get to the postseason I said that's over with.  We're now going to guard the line with our life.
We did a super job against Cincinnati, held them to 14 points at halftime.  They were shooting the three great.  We did a great job tonight because I think they made two late and they only had five for the game.  This was one of the toughest teams because they have such a great inside‑outside attack.  They can kill you with Drew Gordon inside.  They've got multiple guys that ‑‑ one shoots 44 percent, one 39, the other 38.  They're very difficult to guard.
But we played great defense tonight.  Did some really good things down the stretch offensively.  We just had a difficult time keeping them off the backboard.

Q.  What do you have to work on for the next set of games next week?
COACH PITINO:  Well, depends who we're playing.  I think the Big East, we knew Davidson, our goal against Davidson was stop the three and keep them out of transition.  We knew it was going to be an up and down game.  We knew this game was going to be a Pittsburgh game, a West Virginia game, it was going to be smash mouth basketball because of field goal defense.  We knew it was going to be a low scoring game.  Both teams depriving the other team of scoring.
If you're in the Big East and you can play against a 1‑3‑1, you can against Syracuse's zone, against Marquette's transition game.  You see it all in the Big East.  It's not a conference, it's a corporation, there are so many teams.
We were prepared for this team and we were prepared for Davidson.  St. Louis has slowed down, and Michigan State is fast break.  You would think right away you should prepare for Michigan State, but after watching this tournament and seeing Duke go down and Missouri go down, I've said it all along, as I look at this tournament, Kentucky I've always felt is in a class by themselves.  North Carolina is a little bit below them in a class by themselves.  And the rest of us are playing to upset those two.  But those two have unbelievable lane talent, and they're scary basketball teams.
But you see Duke lose to Lehigh.  You see Missouri lose to Norfolk State.  I've seen some upsets in my time, but I don't quite believe it, because you've got one team that has the greatest coach in the modern era.  He's the John Wooden of this generation.  And they lose, so anybody can lose.  You have the greatest coach in our game with terrific basketball players, and Lehigh is in the Patriot league, and Norfolk State beats one of the most highly potent offenses in the game.
That's what makes March Madness so unbelievable.  You don't find that in the NBA.  Barkley said it well the other night, in a series, every now and then there's an upset in the series.  But it's not usual.  Usually talent prevails.  In March Madness, talent doesn't prevail, it's the better team that night.  And Ashville could have beaten Syracuse, to add to that equation.

Q.  Could the headline be for this one that you feel that your team belongs in an institution, if you're going to talk about Jack Nicholson and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"?
COACH PITINO:  I got upset at Russ tonight because I told him that Chane had said something to him, and Russ said something back.  I said, Just be quiet.  He said I'm okay.  He kept saying I'm okay.  And finally I said to him, Russ, I don't care if you're okay, I said go sit down.  He said, no, you don't understand, coach, I'm okay.  I said you say it one more time, Russ.
Coaching him is about as much fun, because you don't really know what's going to happen on the next play.  He bailed us out with 3's.  If you look at the statistics he's probably shooting ‑‑ he's really not a 3‑point shooter, he's a 2 point shooter.  But he made them tonight and that's Russ Smith.

Q.  Father Murphy, is he helping you on St. Patrick's Day?  The question I had for you, though, is offensive rebounding, they kind of dominated you on the offensive boards?
COACH PITINO:  Well, I tell you what happens, when you put such great emphasis on stopping the three and you're out on the line, and there's long rebounds, it goes over the heads of the guys blocking out and they come up with the rebounds.  So that's the danger of really playing above the line.  But we needed to do a better job.  We have been doing a better job.  That's the first time we've been really hurt like that.

Q.  How much stock should we put into the fact that you've never lost in the Sweet 16?
COACH PITINO:  Well, first I didn't know that.  Thanks.  That's not true, right?  No.  I have lost.

Q.  I apologize.
COACH PITINO:  I think I've lost in every region.

Q.  Can you just talk a little bit about Peyton down the stretch and his leadership?
COACH PITINO:  Yeah, I didn't feel tonight Peyton was going to have a great game because of the way they play the pick‑and‑roll.  They string it.  He was either going to have make the midrange jump shot, but at the end of the game when they needed stops, he made a great move.  And he did something that he hasn't done with us in two years, that pass he made to Gorgui, he came to a jump stop and made the play.  That was a great pass.
He's having a tremendous postseason, a great postseason.  Also I'm getting more and more confidence in Wayne Blackshear.  I think he's going to go from eight minutes to 12, 15 minutes, and I think that's going to give us a big lift.

Q.  Can you talk about the importance of keeping Gorgui out of foul trouble tonight?
COACH PITINO:  Yes.  The way to do that is to ‑‑ they run a really tough offensive attack with their shooters, is you have to down the pick‑and‑roll and keep players on the sideline.  I had a good friend who passed way, a scout, Dick McGuire, for the New York Knicks, he made a statement to me over and over when I was coaching the Knicks.  I said why were we so great?  And he said because I could get to the middle of the floor.  Great guards get to the middle, inferior guards play on the sideline.
So our whole goal defensively with the pick‑and‑roll is to keep them on the sideline, that keeps them away from Gorgui.  And we did a great job with that.  If you let him get to the middle, that's when he struggles.

Q.  Given Russ's ups and Downs, seems like other players are unpredictable offensively as well.  How have you been able to succeed so well?  You've won a lot of big games in a row, given that it doesn't look like a big offensive power?
COACH PITINO:  Didn't you think we were much better against Davidson?  We looked like a pretty good offensive team.  I think the opponent makes you look bad sometimes.  I think when we lost Mike Marra, we lost a really good offensive player.  And then the backup center with Van Treese, and lost our backup power forward with Rakeem Buckles, and then we lost Peyton for a month and Kyle Kuric for two weeks.  I knew we weren't going to have great continuity on offense unless‑‑ we looked great against Marquette because they were like Davidson.  And we looked terrific on offense.  And against Davidson we looked terrific.
When we've got to play these smash mouth type teams like this, we're not the biggest team.  Russ is 5‑11, 6 foot, Peyton's 5‑11, 6 foot, Chane is an undersized power forward, Jared Swopshire comes in and looks like he doesn't eat, and that's not our game.  We've been able to win those games and that's what's important.

Q.  Gorgui, are you seeing improvements in his game each single game in certain aspects?
COACH PITINO:  Yeah, I think the only time he struggles a little bit is when he gets early fouls and then he becomes tentative and can't play as hard.  He's unusual for a player from Africa.  A lot of times guys come from Africa, and they do play soccer, but they're not real gifted offensively with the skill level.  He's the opposite.  He came in at 187 pounds, and he was like ‑‑ not Anthony Davis, not like that, but he grew ‑‑ he was 6‑2, 6‑3 and shot up.  So he always had the skills.  When he came over he was 187 pounds, he had great ball skills.  Remember, this is a young man when he came over here spoke no English, and in two and a half months he was pretty darn fluent, so he's a very bright young man, too.

Q.  How much of a pleasant surprise has that been?
COACH PITINO:  You know what's so surprising and so nice?  You've got Peyton Siva back, we've got Russ Smith, we've got a terrific guard out of high school coming in, Chane Behanan back, a healthy Wayne Blackshear back.  We're a very young team, although it doesn't look that way.  We lose two players ‑‑ a young man who is maybe our best player sitting out.  That's why I wanted to get to this point and let them feel it right now and now we can go on and make that next run.

Q.  The players were saying they've never seen you this happy, ever.  They said it's even happier than the Big East tournament.  What's the level of excitement for you personally right now?
COACH PITINO:  Well, I'm really delighted because I thought this team had a lot of limitations.  And I wanted to win that Big East tournament in the worst way, because I knew that confidence would grow.  We finished the season losing Senior Night, which I don't think we've ever done, I'm not sure, but I don't think we've ever done that, and then we lose at Syracuse.  We had to win the Big East tournament.  It was a must.
So I'm about as happy as I've ever been in this game right now because these guys truly are like my children.  I mean we sit around and we do things together that I haven't done with past teams in my life.  We do an awful lot together.  And it all started in the Bahamas this year.  We do things a little different.  Like the big thing for all of us, we were so excited when Jerry Smith got called up for a ten‑day contract with the Nets.  We're all celebrating like little kids because one of our guys got moved up like that.  We knew how hard he worked.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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