Q. Cat Barber was just saying that he’s so quick that he would advise teams not to press him. Do you expect that Rick Pitino will change his philosophy at this late date?
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: No. It doesn’t matter to us. Chris Jones was just as fast. It really doesn’t matter. Our press is designed to wear you down throughout the game, not from the beginning of the game. So we’ll just wait and see when the press is on.
Q. Montrezl, you guys were just here a month ago. Any advantage to having just played here? They always said the Dome is a tough place to shoot.
MONTREZL HARRELL: I feel like anywhere you go it’s going to be tough to shoot in the beginning because you’re not used to the facility. That’s what these practices are for. You need the practices to go out there and get a lot of shots up and try to get familiar with the court. Like I said, we played here before when we played against Syracuse, and we really didn’t have too much of a tough shooting night. Once again, this is what we have the practices for to get out here and get shots up and kind of get a feel for the gym.
Q. Montrezl, you had one of your lower scoring games of the year against N.C. State in February. What did you learn from that game that can help you out tomorrow night?
MONTREZL HARRELL: It was a tough shooting night for me. If you keep playing the game of basketball long enough, you’re always going to have a tough night. But I learned the process of moving forward. Wasn’t seeing too many doubles. I saw how they were playing me. They had a really tough D on me to make sure I couldn’t get to the basket. I kind of know how they’re going to play me, but tomorrow’s a whole different game. Like I said, I’ll take the tools that my coaches have instilled in me in the game that we played in before, and I kind of got a feeling how they’re going to guard me. So I’m just ready for tomorrow.
Q. This is for both players: You had a taste of it this year, how would you describe — what makes the ACC different than any other kind of basketball? Do you guys follow the other ACC teams that are still in the tournament?
MONTREZL HARRELL: I feel like the ACC is one of the best conferences in the game of basketball this year. I kind of felt like it was one of those remakes of what the Big East games were really like: Hard-fought, toughness, battles every night. It was a real intense competition, one of the teams you had to play every night because there was no telling. You could play as well as you could and end up losing the game. It was a real tough-fought conference. We don’t really pay attention to any of the other teams in the ACC. That’s not our concern. We’re focusing on our team, what we have to do moving forward.
WAYNE BLACKSHEAR: Just piggybacking off what he said, just like a remake of the Big East. A lot of teams from the Big East came to the ACC. Every night is a dogfight. No matter what team it is, ranked team, unranked team. You’ve just got to be prepared.
Q. Montrezl, six of the eight losses that were inflicted on you this year, those teams are still playing. Does that give you any sense that maybe you had a more successful season than was seen from the outside?
MONTREZL HARRELL: Say that again. I’m sorry?
Q. Of the teams that are still playing Sweet 16 — Notre Dame, UK, North Carolina, Duke — account for six of your losses. Does that give you any sense that you had a more successful season because of the high level of the teams that beat you?
MONTREZL HARRELL: I really wouldn’t say that because at the end of the day, a loss is a loss. It was tough for us to still have to take those losses. Like you said, we did play high-caliber teams. It was a fight every night. But it just goes to show you that throughout the whole year, like the ACC was one of the toughest conferences there was in the game of basketball. As you can see, Kentucky still has — they are there. But either way, it just goes to show you we play high-caliber teams. A loss is still a loss. We’re not going to take anything away from that. This is a new time in the Tournament, and every game matters. It’s all about the losses you take in the Tournament.
COACH PITINO: Well, we’re excited to be here. Sweet 16, as I always say, the first round, first game is very nerve-racking, and you’ve got to get by that. And then obviously, if you get by one more, you’re in the Sweet 16. Now you’ve got a game where, if you win, you’re one game away from the Final Four. It keeps mounting, and we’re very excited to be a part of the Sweet 16.
Q. Rick, Cat Barber was just saying, if he were a coach, he wouldn’t press him. Has there ever been a player so quick that you decided against your core philosophy?
COACH PITINO: Well, Duke just pressed them and just won by 20 points. So that throws that theory out the window.
Q. (No microphone).
COACH PITINO: I find that you have to press differently with a player like Cat Barber, but in my lifetime, the guys that — Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson, for us with the New York Knicks, had the most difficulty, and teams like Northern Iowa that pass the ball more because sometimes you can wear a player out when you press them, and that has as many benefits as the actual turnover.
Q. Rick, Terry said that he was not pressing, which everyone seemed to say he was doing in February when he had to take over for Chris. So what is the change in his game recently, do you think?
COACH PITINO: I don’t think he was pressing either. I think that it’s just that you’re playing with a backcourt mate for so long, for four months, and suddenly there’s a big change, and you’ve just got to get used to the change more than anything else.
Q. Coach, does being back here in the Syracuse area, does that bring back early memories of your early days, coaching here with Coach Boeheim?
COACH PITINO: When I left 37 years ago, it was still raining, so yes (laughter). I’m going to have dinner with Jim tonight and Juli. The thing that makes Syracuse a great place is its people. You can kid around about the weather all you want, but I met so many great people, still friends of mine today from a long time ago, and I really, thoroughly enjoyed the two years. My first son was born here. Nothing but great memories about this place and the players that we coached.
Q. Coach, I want to piggyback off that, a week ago here at the Dome, Coach Boeheim announced he has three years left. Can you imagine college basketball without Jim Boeheim?
COACH PITINO: Well, Jim, as I said, is a good friend and a great guy, and I don’t believe the three years one bit. He’s too cheap to retire in three years. No, I’m only kidding. I think Jim is going through a tough time right now, and I think — one thing I can tell you about tough times is tough people get through them very well, and he will get through it. But, no, it would be very difficult, sort of like St. John’s with Louie and Jim with Syracuse and Coach K with Duke. You can’t imagine those programs without that person at the helm. But every great thing does come to an end. In Jim’s case, we would all miss him on the coaching sidelines. But I do know this, that he’s a man of great integrity. I worked with him. There’s not an ounce in him that would ever break the rules knowingly. So I know him very well, no different than Roy Williams. These are guys with great integrity. And sometimes you just — in today’s culture, anything can happen.
Q. Rick, kind of in conjunction with that, specific to the NCAA’s penalties, what was your reaction to them? And how do you think Jim and Syracuse will handle them?
COACH PITINO: I think Jim already had the press conference to handle that, and I certainly don’t need to defend him because he did it quite well himself. I will say this, we all agree — the NCAA, which we are part of. So when we say “the NCAA”, sometimes coaches and people think they’re an outside organization. We are the NCAA, and we must voice to them, look, we want to keep our game regulated the right way but not in an eight-year time span. They can’t have these Miami investigations and then — I understand that. Hire more people. We’ve got a lot of money from March Madness. Hire more people and get the job done in a shorter period of time. Outside of that, Syracuse knows how to handle it. They don’t need me to defend them.
Q. Coach, what was the experience like for you to be in the ACC this year? How is it different?
COACH PITINO: I guess we’re so used to change. I’ve been in Conference USA, the Big East, the AAC, now the ACC, and in my time at Louisville, and for me personally, it was great. I’ve not been to many of these places before. Even though I’ve been in the business for 40 years, eight years in the pros and 32 years in college, I haven’t been to a lot of these places, and I really enjoyed seeing what it was like. The ACC is like the Big East southern style. Now, we joined in with Pittsburgh, Louisville, Boston College. It’s a mega conference right now, and obviously from the Sweet 16, doing quite well.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to that, with five ACC teams still playing, most of your losses were responsible from four teams that are still playing. Does that strengthen you for the Tournament, going in having played all these Sweet 16 teams? And second part of that, as you’re in the bubble of the ACC, are you aware of how these teams fare nationally as the season is going along?
COACH PITINO: I don’t think our players are, but I am certainly, personally because I follow each game. I think that the ACC this year, the upper division of the ACC, there have always been four or five teams that could win a National Championship, certainly go to a Final Four. It’s only going to get better and better and better because recruiting heats up each year. A lot of coaching changes have been made in the league (sic); new coach at Boston College, new coach at Virginia Tech, new coach at Wake Forest. So it takes time for those people to catch up recruiting-wise. We opened up the season against Minnesota, a Big Ten school. We played Indiana at the Garden. We played Ohio State. We played Kentucky, then we went through this schedule. Like everything else, when you play that type of competition, we finished the season 24-8 with a double bye. A lot of people felt that we would have a lot of problems. It’s interesting, that’s what happens when you become very successful at anything; people expect more. Well, I happen to believe that we’ve had our struggles this year because we’ve had a difficult time scoring, but the fact that they won 24 games played in that competition means they had to win another way. We’ve never had problems at Louisville scoring. I should say one other year, the Final Four year, we had trouble there as well. So you just have to find a way to win, and we’ve found a way to win this year. And we’ve gotten better the last three weeks from an execution standpoint. So there’s many different ways to win, and our guys are finding ways to do that.
Q. Are you more comfortable, or is it less comfortable, when you play a team that you already played in the regular season when you get to Tournament?
COACH PITINO: I really don’t think it matters. We know them better, and they know us better. We have great respect for them. They beat us at home. A lot of teams don’t beat us at home. It was a close game, and then they pulled away. Hurt us on the backboard. Hurt us off pick-and-rolls. Did a lot of really good things. They’re a team right now that can beat you so many different ways. They can beat you inside. They can beat you outside with three-point shooting with their two and three. They can beat you off the bounce with their point guard. They’re very physical inside. They can beat you on the break. So many different ways that they can win. Sometimes NC State is not as well noticed on Tobacco Road as, say, Carolina or Duke, but they beat both of those teams, and they can beat anybody. They’re that good. So we know that. I think they know we’re pretty good as well. So we just know each other better. The one thing that happens — when I was watching Northern Iowa on film, I’ve never been so nervous in a long, long time the way they executed. I was really impressed with them. They’re like Virginia on defense, and then offensively they shoot it great. They pass it great. They do so many outstanding things. Then you watch Irvine on film, and you say, you know, we can hurt them here. We can hurt them here. Then you look physically for the first time against a 7’6″ person, and you haven’t gone against that, and Irvine played a winning game. They could have beaten us. So that’s just what this tournament is about. We know them, and they know us. One of us may make a big change in this game that the other team’s not ready for and maybe surprise someone.
Q. Forgive me if this has been asked, Quentin Snider’s improvement, what have you seen in him? And what have you tried to bring out in him?
COACH PITINO: The most important thing is defense. He’s been struggling defensively. But he got to go every single day against Chris Jones, one of the strongest point guards in the nation, and he got a lot better because of that. Sometimes people like Quentin and Jaylen Johnson don’t show how good they are because all they’re doing is giving a breather to Chris. They come in before a time-out, play another minute or two after the time-out just to give the guy a breather. Now he’s in a different role, and he can showcase his skills a lot more. So he’s doing an outstanding job for us. He’s improved, but I think because going head to head with Chris Jones every day made him a much better basketball player.
COACH GOTTFRIED: Our team is very excited to be here. We’ve got great respect for Louisville. This is going to be for us a great challenge to play against them and Rick Pitino’s team, but I like my team. I’m excited about where our team has come to. We’ve gotten better throughout the year. I think we’re playing some of the best basketball that we’ve played all year in the last eight or ten games. It’s exciting to be here with a team that’s playing really well. We’ve got a great challenge. We understand it. We know it, and we’re really looking forward to it.
Q. Louisville’s personnel has changed a little bit since the last time you played them, and their strategy has changed, too. What have you noticed differently about the way they’re playing now versus the way you played them on Valentine’s day?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think the biggest thing, without Chris Jones, is the other players, whether it’s Rozier or Blackshear, even Snider and Harrell some. They’re all more aggressive offensively. I think Rozier is the biggest one. He’s the guy that seems to hunt for shots more. They go to him more. I think he realizes he needs to score and step his game up. Sometimes, when you lose a good player, especially a guy offensively that can do what Chris Jones could do, those other guys, they know they have to play at a higher level, and that’s probably the biggest thing that I’m noticing watching them.
Q. How is your team different since that game? How have you evolved, and what are you doing better?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think we’re defending much better than we did earlier in the year. In that game in Louisville, it was kind of a turning point for us. We changed our starting lineup; put Lennard Freeman in the lineup. Gives us a little more defense and rebounding. I thought he helped us execute our offense a little better and get better shots. So I think from that point forward, at times we have really guarded people well. Not every game, but I do think it’s helped us, especially here down the stretch.
Q. Coach, since we are in Syracuse, want to get your reaction to a week ago today, Coach Boeheim announcing he’s got three years left. I know you guys have run into each other on the court several times. What’s your reaction to that?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I’ve got great respect for Coach Boeheim, always have. I think he’s one of the best our game has ever seen. I hate it for him. I hate it for their program that they’re going through a difficult time. Again, just as a guy that’s looked up to him, as a young coach throughout the years, and I’ve served on our Coaches’ Association Board of Directors with him. I’ve been involved with some other different committees with Coach Boeheim. So it’s unfortunate, but they’re going to make it through it. He’s obviously very good. I think they’re going to continue to be a good program and kind of move on from there.
Q. Hey, Coach, at this time of the year, to play a team not only that you’ve played before already in the season but to play a fellow conference opponent, what’s that like?
COACH GOTTFRIED: It’s a little bit different in that they just joined the league this year, and we’ve only played them one time. So it’s not like we play them twice every year for the last ten years. But we do know them, and they know us. They know us a little bit better than they would if we were a team from the West Coast or maybe they hadn’t seen this year, and the same for us. So I think that it makes the game a little bit more familiar, know their players a little bit better. Kind of have an idea of what they may or may not try to do during the game. But I don’t know that it’s like a typical conference game because they’re new to the league, and like I said, we only played them one time.
Q. Coach, can you get a sense of what it meant for your guys not only to win the first game of this that you played but the way you guys won it, with that big comeback, what did it do for the maturity of your guys, winning it that way?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, it gave us great confidence. It gave us an unbelievable lift. I think there was a time in the game against LSU, and probably most people that were watching the game probably felt we had very little chance. What I liked about it is our players never had that sense of, man, this thing is over, probably can’t win this game. Every time-out was positive. Every time-out, you could still see great desire. We just weren’t playing very well. But when you win one like that sometimes, that can be a catapult for you. I was at UCLA in ’95 when Tyus Edney went in 4.8 seconds, 94 feet, and sometimes there’s a game like that gives you a whole different pep in the step with your team. So I thought we certainly played and came out from the very beginning of the next game much differently. Our guys seem to be a lot more confident and played very well against Villanova.
Q. Can you describe in your words what you think Cat Barber has meant to your team since early February, after the struggles he’s had after his friend’s death?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think he’s been terrific. What I like about Cat’s play is he’s turned it loose without the fear of making mistakes. Even though last year he split time with Tyler Lewis, and Tyler played pretty well. He’s a little bit older than him. This year I thought that Cat, he wanted to try to be the perfect point guard all the time and kind of a cerebral guy. There came a point where I felt with him you’ve just got to turn it loose. And for us to become a good team, you’re the guy that’s got to take it to another level. And the turning point was at Georgia Tech. I thought we played over there, and he had great speed up and down the floor. He made three-point shots. He played with confidence. I thought everything began to change right about that time. He’s made a huge difference for us. Big-time difference in our team when he plays at a high level.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Malik, maybe coming off his best game. When you were recruiting him, do you remember, what did you think made him such a good fit for your program? And secondly, has he maybe exceeded expectations that you had for him this year?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, when we recruited him, the thing that I fell in love with was his motor. He plays so hard. Every time I watched him play, so active, around the rim, running the floor, rebounding, scoring. I love that about him. Then once I got to know him a little bit better, we began to recruit him. He’s one of those guys that’s hard not to just fall in love with him as a person. Just a great guy that’s fun to be around every day. Always has a smile on his face every day. Not sure that I’ve been around him for one day when he hasn’t walked in and kind of lit up the room with his personality. He’s gotten better from the beginning of the year until now. He’s improving. Early in the year, he seemed — everything was going so fast. He just wasn’t comfortable offensively, and now he’s starting to get a little bit better there. So I think he’s just had a great, great first year of college.
Q. Mark, your guys seem to have an attitude of, people are still underestimating us, even at this point in the Sweet 16. Is that a message, and do they kind of play off of that?
COACH GOTTFRIED: It’s not something we talk about. It’s not something I talk about with our team, but they’re like everybody else. They watch TV. They read the papers. They listen. I do think it’s been a motivator for them. I don’t think there’s been any question about it. Our guys are competitors. They believe in themselves. I think, to go win, like we did earlier, at Louisville or at Carolina or at Duke the way we beat them earlier in the year, there has to be a level of confidence, a swagger kind of thing with our team to do those things. I don’t think you can walk into any of those situations and win without confidence. So we’ll see what happens. I think that they have certainly heard and listened to the predictors.
Q. As you look at the Louisville offense, not just the change of point guard, how different does the offense look to scout now versus when you played them back in February?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, it’s different in that Rozier, to me, is the one guy that seems to be — he seems to have taken his game one more notch up. And I think Snider has just gotten better with the more minutes he’s had. He’s more comfortable now. He’s playing with confidence. You know, they had a guy in there that was capable of getting 20, 25 on a given night. Like I mentioned earlier, when that guy then leaves, players understand it. They know, for us to win, we all have to be better. We all have to score more and be more efficient. So I just think they’re different in that regard and that those other guys seem to be a little bit more aggressive.
Q. Mark, when you first started recruiting Cat, do you call him “Anthony” at the beginning? How long did it take you before you started calling him “Cat”? And when’s the last time you started calling him “Anthony”?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I don’t think I ever called him “Anthony”, not one time. He’s the Cat Daddy to me. That’s what I call him every day. When we started recruiting him and getting to know him, he’s quiet at times, very quiet. He observes everything around him, but he’s a fun guy to coach. He is. He’s as quick as anybody that I’ve had. I coached Mo Williams at Alabama, Tyus Edney at UCLA. Those guys had a different gear. But Cat’s got that gear that sometimes you think he’s going really fast, and then he’s got a whole ‘nother speed left in there. But he’s the Cat Daddy.
Q. Follow-up on Cat, the perception in Louisville is that it basically came down to you and Louisville and they pulled out. What’s your view of his recruiting and how that wound up?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think there was a lot of schools recruiting him. It wasn’t just the two of us. I don’t know about all that kind of stuff. I don’t know if I would agree with that. I know Kansas was involved. Alabama was involved. There was a lot of schools involved. We were obviously really excited to get him.
Q. Coach, you spent some time in the State of Kentucky at Murray State. What do you remember about that time when you were there?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Loved it. Love Murray. I still follow them. Watched them last night; broke my heart. They got beat on a buzzer beater. Steve Prohm has done a great job. It’s the great kind of basketball — even though it’s one of the smaller level basketball — situations in the country. I did three years there. Loved it, loved every minute of it. And the State of Kentucky, the way that they love basketball, treat basketball in that state, people follow it. They’re into it. It was a lot of fun.
Q. Just to follow up on that, I’m interested, how much basketball do you watch during the Tournament? I know you’re busy, but do you watch a lot of other games?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Oh, yeah, I’m a junkie like all the other ones. I watch them all. I watch them every night. I go home from practice and usually turn on the TV and watch games and stay up late and watch the West Coast games. I get to see a lot. I think most of us are that way. There’s sometimes when it’s time to turn it off; we’ve had enough. But I like to watch it. I like to watch all of it.
Q. Hi, Ralston. When you get to this stage of the Tournament, the seeds still apply. In other words, if you guys win this region, is it an upset?
RALSTON TURNER: I think so. Correct me if I’m wrong, we’re the lowest seed in this regional. So I think, if you look at it from that standpoint, yeah, it would be an upset.
Q. What about your standpoint on it?
TREVOR LACEY: I don’t look at it as an upset. I feel like we’re a higher seed than where we are. We had some ups and downs earlier in the season and played ourselves as an 8 seed. By the seeding it would be an upset, but I don’t feel like it would be an upset. We’re up there with any team.
Q. Trevor, what did you guys do so well in Louisville against them the first matchup? Kind of what do you draw off that this time?
TREVOR LACEY: We defended them well. Most possessions we limited them to one shot. We handled their press well, and we created easy opportunities for us on the offensive end by handling their press. If they press, again, we have to do a good job on their press and keeping Harrell off the glass.
Q. As a follow-up, how different are they now without Chris Jones in what you’ve seen on film and what you’ve faced?
RALSTON TURNER: I think they’re different just because of what Chris Jones brought to the team, but at the same time, they’re still good, obviously. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. They found a way to kind of get it done without him. So they’re still just as dangerous.
Q. Ralston, you were here a couple years ago, and I know the rims are different and the court’s different, but same building. Any thoughts on that as you come back out on the court today? Any kind of advantage you have, having played here?
RALSTON TURNER: No, I actually didn’t really think about that game at all. The only thing I thought about was I probably feel better coming in here versus the first time I did. The first time, any time playing in the Dome, it’s different. But I’ve been here before. So at least it didn’t catch me off guard.
Q. For both Ralston and Trevor, normally, when you play Louisville, you’ve got to be able to handle their pressure, and you’ve got to be able to rebound. Do you see much difference in that strategy for tomorrow?
RALSTON TURNER: No, I don’t. I think it’s going to be the same way. They play a variety of defenses. They do a good job of being pressured. In order to be successful, you’re going to not to have turn the ball over. And on the defensive end, you’re going to have to defend.
TREVOR LACEY: Like Ralston said, that’s how they are. That’s how they’ve been all year. Get pressure and create turnovers and get some easy opportunities to score.