Tomorrow the Louisville Cardinals will participate in their third Elite 8 in four years. Rick Pitino brought Louisvilleâ€™s usual starting five to the press conference in Syracuse today to discuss the upcoming game against Michigan State.
Montrezl Harrell, Mangok Mathiang, Quentin Snider, Wayne Blackshear and Terry Rozier calmly filed in to the conference room. The players displayed confidence and poise as they answered questions about tomorrowâ€™s game.
Earlier today, Michigan Stateâ€™s coach Tom Izzo commented that he did not want his players to watch videos of Harrell because he feared they would get nightmares. When asked if he had any similar concerns about Michigan State, Harrell replied, â€œWe 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.â€
Pitino, in contrast to Izzo, seemed to be at ease as he talked about tomorrowâ€™s game. Pitino said, â€œI 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.â€
Lousville defeated NC State 75-65 last night in Syracuse. Looking back at the game, Pitino said, â€œâ€¦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.â€
If Louisville beats Michigan, Rozier will be going to his third Final Four. Rozier said, â€œIt 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.â€
Pitino is 12-1 in Sweet 16 games. When asked about the effort that goes into preparation for these games, Pitino said, â€œIf 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.â€
The game against Michigan will mark the Cardsâ€™ third Elite 8 in four years.
Photos by Chris Humphreys | The Voice-Tribune