THE MODERATOR: Good evening everyone. We’re now ready to begin the Louisville press conference. We’re joined by Louisville coach, Mike Pegues and also student-athlete Noah Locke. We’ll be joined momentarily by Jarrod West as well.
Coach, if you want to start us off with an opening statement.
MIKE PEGUES: I thought our guys did an incredible job of staying with it after a big first half. We get up 27, and it looks like we’re going to run away with it. Georgia Tech does what they’ve done throughout the year. They fought back. They got back in the game. I thought that their energy superseded ours on the defensive end. That ball pressure really bothered us. We gave up some stuff in transition and in the half-court with some back cuts that we hadn’t given up in the first half, and it allowed them to get back in the game.
Credit to them for fighting back, but big credit to my guys for hanging in there, for staying together. As many losses and as much adversity as we’ve dealt with throughout the year, we could have easily caved and said, Well, you know it was a good ride, but we didn’t do that. We chose to fight and compete and hang in and hold on. I couldn’t be more excited about my guys.
Before the game, I told them, hey, you take the bus ride coming in to the Barclays Center and you get on the elevator and they spin you around, and a lot of our guys in the back hadn’t been here before. I could hear them chattering. Hey, man, that’s cool. I want to do that again, but we can’t do that again until we get this one tonight. So credit to those guys for hanging in there and getting a big win against a good team.
Q. You alluded to this, but you guys have not been a team that’s handled adversity really well in a lot of these games. How much maybe do you think that can help you for as long as you’re here just responding to that that way tonight?
MIKE PEGUES: Yeah, hopefully that serves as — it emboldens us, right? Hopefully, it gives us even more juice and confidence coming into tomorrow against a really good UVA team that’s going to punch us in the mouth at some point. And when they punch us in the mouth, we’ve got to get our hands up and we’ve got to punch back.
Hopefully games like this just adds to our toughness and our exterior and allows us to continue to compete and get after it regardless of whatever run they may go on. We can’t give them the type of run we gave them at home a couple days ago when they go on a 22-3 run. We can’t give that up to a really good defensive team. But when they do go on a run, hopefully we’ll be reminded of this game here, and we’ll stand in it fighting and get back in it.
Q. Just what you can say about obviously a unique year, this season taking over, just how you feel the team has responded to you over time and to see the way that they were able to close this one out, just what that means to you this late in the season.
MIKE PEGUES: It means a lot. I’ve said it a ton. Our guys have been through more than any other team in the country, probably more than any other team in the history of Louisville basketball, unprecedented the things that they’ve had to deal with.
They’re young men. We’re adults. We can handle some adversity. They don’t see as much of it that early in life. This group has seen a lot of it, and it hasn’t been fair. But they haven’t quit. They’ve stood in. They fought. And tonight was no different.
Q. Mike, maybe I’m wrong and you can correct me, if seemed like when you guys got the 27-point lead, you guys were playing inside the entire time, kicking out for wide open threes. But when Georgia Tech started making that run, it felt like you guys kind of got away from that just a little bit. Did you see the same thing? Is it good to learn in a win rather than oftentimes you guys have had to learn in a loss this year?
MIKE PEGUES: Yeah, again, I thought Georgia Tech started to extend their pressure. If you noticed in the second half, we were running our offense near half-court. They really got into the ball. They made passing the ball from point A to point B tough. They made handling the ball in the half-court really tough. They just dramatically picked up their energy and their effort on the defensive end, and we were on our heels.
So because we were on our heels, we couldn’t really get the ball in the paint. We couldn’t play inside-outside basketball like we had played throughout most of the first half.
Q. Coach, given kind of what you said about this team and learning how to fight through adversity, when Georgia Tech was coming back, kind of what was your confidence level that I think we’ll be able to pull ourselves out of this?
MIKE PEGUES: Well, I haven’t done this a ton. Obviously, an interim head coach and don’t have a lot of experience at it. But I played pretty big-time basketball in my estimation, and I’ve coached for long enough to realize that, when things get tough, you can either permeate panic, or you can permeate calm. I obviously want to permeate calm and let our guys know that we’re fine and we have to stay stable and locked in and get back to the basics. And they did a great job of accepting that message and handling themselves on the court.
These two guys here, in particular J. West, made some really big shots down the stretch to plug that hole. Georgia Tech, again, is fighting back, and we’re not running the best offense, but J. West steps up and hits two critical threes.
Q. Jarrod, to Coach’s point there, those are tough shots, and if you miss those shots, they’ve really got a lot of momentum going. What’s going through your mind when you go at those?
JARROD WEST: I was feeling good, man. I’m not going to lie. The game got tight. Obviously, a lot tighter than we want it to be. They were making a run. I think playing in as many games as I have, it’s crazy that things like that happen. I feel like I was pretty composed and I stayed in the moment, and I was pretty focused on what was going on right now.
Just trying to keep a level head but maintaining my confidence really. We hadn’t scored in a while, so I was just taking those shots with confidence, man. I felt good throughout the game. My shot was feeling good. I felt like I had those opportunities down the stretch to kind of stabilize our team, and I was confident in that and believing in myself. So I just knocked them down.
Q. Just seeing the bench and seeing the reaction, obviously you knew that the seniors were going to play for a lot because they want to keep the season going, but how nice was it to see everyone have that type of energy? Even if they weren’t playing, they were still into the game.
MIKE PEGUES: I thought our bench was tremendous. I walked up and down the sideline a couple times, and all I ever saw was guys standing up and cheering. In fact that referees had to tell us a couple times that we had to sit down. Jae’Lyn was over there hurt, and guys who hadn’t gotten in the game were just jubilant and excited every time we make a play, encouraging their teammates to hang in there and stay with it on their run. It was awesome. We’re going to need that same type of energy tomorrow as well.
NOAH LOCKE: Yeah, pretty much what Coach said. I felt like it helped us out on the floor, just knowing that our teammates got our back. They gave us a lot of energy out there. We went on that run, and even when we were going down, I mean, we got into the huddle, guys were making sure that we were staying on our Ps and Qs. We ended up sticking it out with them on the bench making sure that we were good.
Q. Coach, you guys fell behind 9-3 early. At the first media time-out, I think you went on a 17-4 run after that. What were the adjustments after that? It seemed like your offense was really clicking and you guys were more in sync, where you were out of it the first four minutes.
MIKE PEGUES: I think Kyle Sturdivant got off to a really good start. I think he scored 7 of their 9. I forget the other kid who made the other bucket. Sturdivant got them off to a great start. He made some tough shots off of J. West, and J. West is one of the best defenders in the ACC. He earned those baskets, right?
The other kid makes some lay-up over a contested hand. So I thought our defense was solid, but they just made some tough shots. Then we actually started to get some stops. We got into the ball even more and that created more opportunities for us to get out in transition and get the ball in the paint on offense and we really got going on that end of the floor. But it starts with our defense.
Q. Jarrod is a young man who put out the effort each and every day throughout the season. To see him have this kind of a moment for you guys, what does it mean as the coach?
MIKE PEGUES: I’m thrilled for him. I know Jarrod has been a big-time three-point shooter his entire career. He didn’t shoot the ball the way he would have liked throughout the season, but he made some huge shots. I go back to the Bahamas against Maryland. He knocks down a huge three in a similar situation with Maryland storming back and he stays them off and secures the win for us. He’s made big shots like you said in his career. I’m so thrilled that he doesn’t care about the numbers. He just understands who he is as a player.
Same with this guy Noah Locke. They know who they are. They’ve been big-time shooters and big-time scorers throughout their career. Regardless of what the numbers may have said, in those moments they’re ready. They’ve been here before. We’re going to need a lot more of that.
Q. Of course you guys lost twice during the regular season against Virginia. What can you take into the game tomorrow to try to come out with the game?
MIKE PEGUES: UVA is a tough team. They have a national pedigree. Obviously, a National Championship coach, a National Championship point guard. They expect to win. They prepare to win. They make things really tough for you on the offensive end because of the way they guard and crowd the lane and keep the ball out of the paint.
Offensively their continuity is tough to guard. They keep you moving, keep you fighting through screens. But we know them well. Again, like you said, we’ve lost to them twice in what I would say were relatively close games. We were in the game. It’s not like we get blown out. We’re in the game. At times throughout the game, we just have some lulls on the end that affect us on the defensive end. We can’t have those moments tomorrow night if we expect to win.
Q. Jarrod, I want to ask you a question about your defense of Michael Devoe. I thought the first half you did a good job getting into him and causing problems. What was your objective? Could you sense a little bit his frustration in not getting the shots he wanted?
JARROD WEST: Yeah, Devoe is obviously a really good player. Really experienced in the ACC. I think he’s averaging like 19 points a game. He’s a good player, man. For me, I try to make the game hard for him, be physical off the ball. They run that Princeton-style offense where he runs a lot of screens or even sets a lot of screens and still gets him open. He does back cuts and things like that.
It’s tough sometimes, but for me, I just try to stay attached, make the game hard for him, get to his body, play him physical. When he has the ball, I try to get under him and make it hard for him, make him have to watch his dribbling and be focused on me than surveying the floor.
Honestly, I feel like a lot of his points in the second half kind of came from transition or the free-throw line. I feel like in half-court, our team defense on him, not just me, but our team did a really good job understanding the game plan and doing our principles the right way. I take pride in my matchups. At the end of the day, that’s something that I like to do. So if I got to guard the opposing team’s best guard or whoever it is for every game, that’s what I’m going to do.
Q. Jarrod, you guys have been faced — we’ve talked so much about adversity this season. You faced so much of it in games, and you guys haven’t always responded. What do you think it does for you to get pushed a little tonight and react the way you guys did?
JARROD WEST: I think it reminds us that we can do it, that we can get through those tough moments. I think we maybe got up 30, I can’t remember, and I don’t remember exactly what the run was that they went on, but I think it got to six. Things like that, it can make a team tight or crumble, you know.
We got a lot of old guys on our team, and a lot of them were on the floor tonight at the end of the game that have been through a lot. I think it just gives us that confidence and that belief that we can push through the adversity that we’ve been through and that even when we face it going forward in games, that we can push through it as well. I thought we did a really good job of finishing the game and responding the way that we did.
Q. Actually for all three of you, if you don’t mind. The last couple weeks of the season, Malik has had his issues, but tonight you guys were going through Malik. He was kind of directing traffic. He just seemed like a completely different player. Did you guys notice the same thing? What do you think has gone into that change?
MIKE PEGUES: I’ll answer that. I thought he was phenomenal tonight. I really did. Malik has honestly had his ups and downs throughout the season, but he’s a veteran, he’s a captain. He’s a guy who’s been out there, to J. West’s point, about older guys in the game, at the end of the game making pivotal plays for us. Malik is a big part of that. He goes for 14 and 10, gets a double double. His poise at the end of the game really helps us secure some big-time rebounds at the end of the game.
He’s a guy that has to play well for us in order to compete and do something special here and beat UVA tomorrow. He’s got to be a big part of that. When he’s invested in and locked in the way that he was tonight, we’re a different team.
NOAH LOCKE: I feel like he’s been — he played like really well tonight. Through all the stuff that he went through and all of our team went through, I feel like he came into it as just a new season, as a new start for everybody. I feel like everyone came in with that mindset. I feel like we just got to continue to play that way and come out with some more wins.
THE MODERATOR: Perfect. Thanks so much, guys. Congrats on the win.
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