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March 31, 2013
Louisville – 85
Duke – 63
THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by the University of Louisville coach and student‑athletes. Coach Pitino, we'll ask you to make an opening statement and then go to the student‑athletes, please.
COACH PITINO: I'm real proud of the team. I don't think any of us, with what we had to witness, could have overcome it, if it wasn't for Kevin Ware 12 times saying to the guys: I'll be fine. Win the game. And he kept saying it over and over and over. I had to get the guys all in.
It was very difficult to look at and watch, but he's a brave young man, because all he kept saying was: Win the game. We're real proud of him. It's the same injury that Michael Bush had, from what Fred told me, in football, and he'll come back. We'll get Kevin back as good as new.
That being said, it takes a heck of a ball club without backups to do what they did tonight. Real proud of our guys. Real disappointed for Kevin, but we're getting him home to Atlanta. That will be a consolation for him, certainly.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student‑athletes.
Q. Russ, you seemed particularly shaken by what you saw. Can you just describe how you saw and what you saw and how long it took you to sort of normalize your emotions?
RUSS SMITH: Well, we're playing on the stage, and I was really into the game, and I was just looking close, and I got‑‑ Thornton might have been open and I might have yelled and got up, and I seen Kevin go out there and challenge it. When he landed, I heard it. I'd heard it, and then I seen what happened come out, and I immediately just‑‑ just like fell.
And I almost didn't feel nothing, and it was, it was really hard for me to pull myself together, because I didn't ever think in a million years I would see something like that. And that happened, especially, to a guy like Kevin Ware, I was completely devastated.
Q. Gorgui, your coach said after the Oregon game he wasn't too happy with your defense. Was this more like a Louisville defense today?
GORGUI DIENG: Like we just‑‑ Coach say was not happy with our defense, like you say, but all he been saying like yesterday was just like we need to play defense to win this game, because you are a very good basketball team. If you play together and play good defense, we can come up with a victory.
And I think we did it tonight, and the guys did a great job.
Q. Peyton, I was wondering if you could speak about the resolve and the focus of this team, about how you guys decide we're not clipping down the nets because we have a bigger prize in mind, and one of your best players takes an injury like that, and a lot of teams would have been shaken and you guys are able to go blow out a great team like that.
PEYTON SIVA: First, when Kevin went down, it was devastating for all of us. Like Russ said, we would have never thought in a million years any of us would have seen that. I didn't get a chance to see it actually happen. But when I looked over, I saw his leg.
We just came together and Kevin Ware really was the reason why we pulled this game out. Like Coach said, he told us countless times: Just go win this game for me. Just go win this game. Don't worry about me. I'm fine. Just go win this game.
I don't know how he did it. I don't know how he got the strength to do it, but he told us to go out there and win. These guys really came to play. Gorgui really stepped up. He had a double double. Russ really got going.
Everybody on the team just wanted to step up for him. For us to show that focus and that determination is‑‑ we just tried to do it for him.
Q. What was your coach's message to you at halftime, just to kind of get you refocused?
RUSS SMITH: I'm going to make it like real simple and short. Let's not lose. Don't lose this game for Kevin Ware. That was the main‑‑ that was the summary. That's it, really.
Q. After the locker room talk at halftime, when you finally walked out, what were your first feelings going on to the court?
PEYTON SIVA: We had to do this for Kevin. That's our whole thing. Coach told us that we need to get him back home, and I think it would have been a tougher loss for us if we would have went out there and lost. I think that would have hurt him more than the actual injury.
So when we went out there, we tried to go out there and play together as a team. We hit a little run, they hit a run, and we just made our last run. And everybody really came together.
And we just tried to stay together as a team. That's all we could do when we went out there. Not seeing No. 5 throw to Montrezl before the game was something different at halftime. But everybody pulled together and we got it done.
Q. Chane was wearing Kevin's jersey at the end of the game. Do you know whose idea that was and what did you guys think when you looked over and saw him wearing No. 5?
GORGUI DIENG: Like Chane and Kevin are very close to each other. They were like‑‑ we all feel like we're family, but Chane and Kevin, they are very close. So I don't know how he got the jersey, but to make short you can say just that they are very good friends.
RUSS SMITH: Pretty much the same thing there. Everyone looks at Kevin like a little brother, and he's our brother, but the relationship that Chane and Kevin has is almost completely unmatched by anybody on the team. They're on another level of brotherhood.
And for Chane to do that, it was almost expected of him to do that. And that's a great way to go out.
Q. Either Russ or Peyton, would you comment on Hancock's work on Curry?
PEYTON SIVA: I think he did an excellent job. In the first half, we held him to zero points, and he couldn't really get going. And second half, I gave him a couple 3s and Coach P told me I wasn't a great defender so I had to get off him and Luke had to get on him.
Luke did a great job in the second half, really containing him, not letting him go by him. Luke is a great defender. Coach P is actually pretty funny, because Coach tells Luke he's the worst defender in the world, but Luke wanted to show him up today and did a great job in the second half.
Q. During the three‑game losing streak in January, the Oregon, Notre Dame game, the five‑overtime game, did you envision going on a run like you've gone on and getting to the Final Four again?
RUSS SMITH: We knew all along that we were good, and we knew how great of a team we are. Coach knew it. The whole staff. We had faith in each other. All we had to do was put it together. Once we put it together, everybody got their confidence back. The rotations were back to normal, and everyone locked in to say, hey, let's set our goals, let's win seven straight, win the conference. Let's win the Big East Tournament. Let's get the No. 1 of the No. 1 seeds, and now we're here.
We've had confidence in ourselves all along.
PEYTON SIVA: A lot of people counted us out, just like they did my junior year where we lost four of our last six games. In our locker room, we knew what we were capable of.
We figured out what we need to do from our losses. We learned from them. We learned from the Villanova loss that we had to make free throws. From the Syracuse loss, that I can't turn the ball over in that situation to end the game.
So we nitpicked every little thing we did and came together as a team and decided that the team is more important than us individuals. That's what we just wanted to go out there and prove.
Today, it really showed what an actual team can do when you really play together.
Q. Peyton, I don't know if you can put it into words or not. The tenth tie of the game was at 15:15 at 42‑42. Then you went on a 13‑2 run. Can you put into words what took place to get that double‑digit lead and you never gave it up?
PEYTON SIVA: I think at the time, I had just given up two 3s. We was in foul trouble. Gorgui had three or four fouls. I had three fouls. Coach P continued to tell us we've got to keep the pressure on them. We've got to keep being aggressive on offense.
We were getting out‑rebounded at halftime. By the end of the game, we out‑rebounded them. I think hitting the glass and really attacking them, being aggressive on the offensive end helped us spark the run toward the end.
It was a great victory for us. Because we had one common goal, and that was to get it for Kevin.
Q. The Duke guys said that you guys were maybe setting more wing screens and trying to force you guys baseline early and then you adjusted and maybe were setting more higher screens at the top. What was the strategy behind that? Why do you think it worked so well?
PEYTON SIVA: Just a great job by Coach. He's the best coach out there to me, and he watched countless hours of film. So he's not doing anything over there. Like he tells us, he's just seeing the game as he sees it. We're the ones doing all the work.
At halftime, he told us‑‑ he was actually telling us how to adjust, and I was trying to cut him off like, Coach, they're playing like this.
He's like, Can you listen to me? I got this. In the second half, he told us to set higher ball screens. He's just a master at what he does.
Q. For Peyton and Russ, this is obviously your second straight Final Four. How different is this one going to feel, and do you guys now feel like you're going there on even more of a mission than you might have, say, yesterday?
RUSS SMITH: Since being here, going to the Final Four again for the second time, it was really hard to do, because everyone had to put all the other stuff aside and focus and have one main goal and one main objective. That's very hard to do especially with the unit coming back.
I think we did a tremendous job just giving it our all. And Coach did a great job of keeping this team together and getting us to reach our goals. Without Coach, I mean, it wouldn't be possible because he got everybody to play their A‑game, play hard, and also be a cohesive unit on both end of the floor.
And it's so hard to get here, and it's really no comparison. This year is definitely special.
PEYTON SIVA: This year is really special because everybody came back. We had a lot of guys come back. And this year's message was ego. You got to throw your egos out the door. I think that's what everybody did. Humility is the key thing for this team.
This bracket this year, the NCAA Tournament, was a lot of people called it the death bracket. Playing against Duke, playing against Oregon, playing against Colorado State, North Carolina A&T. It was a tough road, but we pulled together. Now that Kevin's not with us, he's always going to be with us. He'll be on the sidelines like he always is. We want to do this for him. We know how much it means to him to be out there, and how much he wants to be out there.
But we're going to come together as a team. We're going to continue to fight through this and continue to go out there and play for Coach. The name is on the front of the jersey, not the back.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys. Congratulations.
We'll continue with Coach Pitino.
Q. Seth Curry said you guys did some things defensively that they hadn't seen all year and it was almost like a box and one he felt in the second half. Can you talk a little bit about what the game plan was against Curry and then those adjustments in the second half?
COACH PITINO: The first thing we had to do against them was take them out of transition. When you play against a Duke team and they only get two transition attempts, you take away the 3.
We felt if we would take away the 3 and trap him in the zone after trapping him match up man, we could keep them out‑‑ they did a very good job of driving it. But I felt that if we could keep them out of transition and keep the 3 away from them, we had a great chance of winning.
We just‑‑ we wanted to take Kelly and Curry out. Our offense was just as much lethal. Now, we had 30 deflections at halftime. We're trying to get 35. Only ten in the second half. But we were trying to wear them out with our offense as well as our defense.
My son gave me a great suggestion on yesterday's practice on two different isolations off our pick and roll. He felt that Plumlee was very, very good. Kelly was very good. If we didn't create some screening before we went into the pick and roll, they would be able to play it. And it worked to perfection. I owe him dinner tonight. That's about all he's going to get from me.
But it was two great suggestions. And then our defense was very complicated to go against.
Q. You've been around this game a long time. Have you ever seen anything on a court harder to look at, and what were your emotions the first couple of minutes after?
COACH PITINO: Well, I went over and I was going to help him up, and then all of a sudden I saw what it was. And I literally almost threw up. And then I just wanted to try to get a towel to get it over that. But all the players came over and saw it.
And I don't think we could have gathered ourselves, I know I couldn't have, if Kevin didn't over and over kept saying: Just win the game. He kept saying it. I had to bring everybody over, take Chane out of the game.
It was a gruesome sight. Nothing like I've ever witnessed before in my life or a basketball game. But I think when he kept saying that, we were in serious foul trouble. But I don't think we could have gone in that locker room with a loss after seeing that.
So being in serious foul trouble, Stephan Van Treese gave us a big lift. Luke has gone from a guy who never even got in a defensive stance to someone who just stopped them cold there. That's an amazing tribute to his fortitude.
So it was terrible to watch. I felt awful for the players, felt awful for the fans. But we had to gather ourselves. We couldn't lose this game for him. We just couldn't.
Q. Rick, you guys play off of energy so much. When the game restarts, the last six minutes of the half, do you expect the same energy at that point? Do you see? How do you deal with that as a coach?
COACH PITINO: I just said to them over and over and over, and at halftime, I said: We know our game plan offensively and defensively. If we let up for a second, then Kevin Ware doesn't mean how much he means to us. I said: We're going to dig in. We're going to play this game to the end. We'll get him back home, nurse him to good health, and we're going to get him to Atlanta.
Q. Rick, is this the hardest thing that you've had to go through as a coach?
COACH PITINO: No, it's not the hardest thing. I think 9/11 and losing a child were probably the two most difficult things in my life. This was the most difficult thing to see in front of the players because when personal tragedy hits, you personally have to get your family. But when it's a team thing like that, and all the players had to see that, it's just how you respond from that moment, and they responded in an unbelievable way because they had to overcome serious foul trouble. They had to overcome a great team. They had to overcome someone they loved.
This is a very close, close basketball team. The three losses we had were no big deal. They really weren't, because we were in every game. Every game. And when you play in the Big East, you're going to have your share of losses.
But this was very traumatic for us to overcome, because all of us witnessed it right up close.
But that young man just screamed for‑‑ he was okay, and I looked at his leg and he looked at his leg and he screamed. And I told him: You're going to be fine. You're going to be fine. He kept chanting: Just win the game, just win the game.
And we did for him.
Q. Can you elaborate on those two suggestions your son made and how you were able to make‑‑
COACH PITINO: We were in a lot of pick and rolls for Peyton and Russ to free up the other guys. He said: You're going to have to create some screening for those guys, because Peyton and Russ are not great laterally. They're great north and south.
And he said: Create them where they have to run at you, create the screen first where they have to run at you so while you're going north, they're coming at you. And don't set lateral screens with these guys with the way they're playing.
We wanted to get Kelly in foul trouble. As soon as he came back in the game, we went right at him and got it.
Q. Do you plan to see Kevin over at Methodist? Will you spend the night? And have you been in touch with his family yet?
COACH PITINO: We have‑‑ my son, Richard, myself and the equipment manager are going to stay overnight. We'll see him late tonight when he comes out of surgery and we'll see him first thing in the morning.
Q. Rick, you and Mike Krzyzewski have a very close relationship. This was obviously an emotional game. I was just curious if you could share what he said to you afterward.
COACH PITINO: I'm not sure. He just said great game. Good luck. And Mike's not only the best coach in our game, probably the classiest guy in our game.
So for me, we know how hard it is to beat Duke. If you let Duke shoot, if you let Duke get in transition, you're going to lose. We took those two things away.
He was a class man when he beat me 21 years ago. And he's a class man in defeat. He's just a special guy. We're lucky to have him in our game. We say he's the modern day Coach Wooden. And Coach Wooden is the one man I looked up to all my life as a teacher of the game of basketball.
All of us in the game are lucky to have Mike as our Olympic coach and as the most successful man in our game.
Q. Rick, can you talk a little bit about getting back to the Final Four and how tough it is to do it back‑to‑back like this team has?
COACH PITINO: It really is, because last year, I never had injuries like that happen. We had 13 concussions. Fred did the minutes. We missed more minutes last year than all the other years, ten years I was there combined.
And we set a goal to get there last year. We tried like heck to beat Kentucky. We play them really well. So we knew we had guys coming back. Last year our message was to stay focused through all the injuries, work hard. We'll get healthy at the right time. This year was about humility. The one thing that could beat us was a lack of humility.
The guys were great at that. They all bought in. They know what it is to play for Louisville, and we got the job done.
It really was a death bracket. It really was. I've been in this business a long time. I've never seen the likes of a Colorado State with five seniors, two fifth‑year seniors. Oregon was great. A&T, we overmatched them, but we had great respect for them.
You play Duke. I mean, to get to a Final Four. Now you're going to play a Wichita State. I wasn't President Obama, but I picked Wichita State to go to the Final Four. I watched them play VCU. I thought they had the ability. It was an amazing job that they did with five new players.
They're a special team. We're a special team. We already know all about Syracuse, and certainly Michigan is as good as it gets.
So it's going to be a heck of a Final Four. I'm just really, really pleased that it's Kevin's home and we can get him back home.
Q. Kind of what I asked the players. Did you envision a Final Four team after the Notre Dame loss, the three losses you said were close games? Did you see they could do this when you challenge them to win seven in a row?
COACH PITINO: I never think about the Final Four. I only thought about it one time in my life. It was 1996. I said if we can just say unselfish, we can win it all. There's never been another period in my life I ever thought that way. I thought Colorado State would be life and death. I thought Oregon and Duke would be life and death. So I'm a little surprised and humbled by the way our guys played.
But our offense, during that run, caught up to our defense. We started shooting these amazing percentages, which we hadn't done all year. And we knew we weren't a 3‑point shooting team. I told the guys: Look, when March comes, a lot of people get conservative. I said: We got to go the other way. With we got to take more chances, more risk, push the pace.
And we started scoring about eight points more average than we have, because we were risk takers. I believe in that come March, and now we've got to just shore up, probably play Luke more at the two guard in the back court. We've got to get more out of Tim Henderson because Russ was dead tonight. Russ was dead. He had very little left, because he's not only working so hard on defense, Peyton and him, but he's got to go down and work on offense as well the way he's working.
So we've got to make some adjustments right now. We've got a week to do it. To go to back‑to‑back Final Fours, it's special. We want a chance to win a championship, certainly. The attempt to win one will be very special for us.
Q. Rick, you didn't cut down the nets again today. Was it the same reason for when you didn't do it at the Big East Tournament?
COACH PITINO: First, let's address Notre Dame. We lost in five overtimes, and we've gone into Notre Dame and lost by 25 and 30 points. A lot of teams do that. Anytime you play Notre Dame, it's very difficult to win there against Mike Brey and they're a great team at home. Great home‑court advantage. It was no big deal. We did lose in five overtimes.
I gathered the guys and said: Look, we mentally lost this game tonight. We didn't physically lose it. We mentally lost it. If the mental aspects of our game catch up to the physical, let's set a goal and win the next seven. Then let's go into Madison Square Garden in the last year of the Big East, the most special tournament, which I'm going to miss personally more than life itself to not go to Madison Square Garden. It meant so much to me as a Knick coach, as a young man growing up.
I said: Let's win that tournament. If we do everything, we'll be the No. 1 of No. 1 seeds, and then let's get to the Final Four and win it all. We set our goals. You don't always achieve your goals. When I said seven in a row, I would take five in a moment, be very happy.
But we did it. We got here. And I'm real proud of our players.
Q. Coach, a lot of conversations on the table up there when the other three guys are there. You and Peyton kind of talking back and forth. Peyton says he interrupts you during halftime. They talk about playing for Louisville. What's on front, not what's on back. Peyton gives Russ the trophy for the MVP. This must be a special group.
COACH PITINO: It is. I've said it over and over about Peyton Siva, Billy Donovan and Peyton Siva are two young men I've coached that don't have a characteristic that I would call a weakness as a person. They're both outstanding basketball players, but it really is fun to coach guys that just think about Louisville. In the‑‑ Montrezl Harrell is having a great game and Chane Behanan, I'm looking at them, and he says: Let them go, Coach. Let them go. In the Syracuse game. Let them stay. Don't worry about me, I'm fine. In this culture in this day and age, you don't see that.
Chane wanted to go back in the game tonight. He said: I'm ready when you are, Coach. Peyton at halftime said: Coach‑‑ I said: I've got it, Peyton. I'll say it a different way. I said: I'm not doing anything, Peyton. But I see what's going on. You're paying the price. I'm doing nothing. So here's what we're going to do with that pick and roll. And he said: I gotcha.
I'm getting old, but I'm not blind yet. I said: I see it. I know exactly what you're talking about.
And his play was magnificent tonight. Russ's play was magnificent. We were running a lot of things for Gorgui to get a foul line jump shot because he's mastered that very well. I thought Chane was big on the glass.
I told the guys tonight: If this is the Russ Smith show and you don't all chip in, we can't go to a Final Four and have a potential championship. I said: It was Gorgui and Russ last game; if everybody doesn't play their part in this game on offense and defense, you can't beat Duke.
And they all did. And I'm real proud of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. Congratulations.
COACH PITINO: Thank you.
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