BOZICH | Louisville leaves Pitino nearly speechless -- and Harre - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Louisville leaves Pitino nearly speechless -- and Harrell plenty perturbed

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Rick Pitino did not have much to say after Louisville scrambled and stumbled past UNC Wilmington, 68-57, Sunday night at the KFC Yum! Center. In the second half, the Cards turned a certain laugher into a needless nail biter against a team that one computer service ranked 221st in the nation.

Pitino's post-game press conference was unofficially timed at 1 minute and 46 seconds. It included the phrases, “hunted points,” “really disappointed” and “ego is edging greatness out.”

“They'll get back to earth, and they'll stop reading their press clippings,” Pitino said in his closing line before pivoting away from the podium.

Montrezl Harrell, one of Pitino's captains, was not in a similar rush to get away from the microphones. Harrell did a better job of criticizing himself and his teammates than I could deliver. I'll let Harrell do most of the talking here.

But I will get you warmed up for Harrell's critique by mentioning that Louisville (9-0) had only seven assists on 27 field goals and missed 12 of 13 three-point shots. The Cards' bench contributed nine points.

Speaking of the bench, that is where guard Chris Jones started the second half after sitting there for eight minutes in the first half, too. After making seven of 12 three-point shots Tuesday against Indiana, Jones and Terry Rozier bricked all six threes they attempted against the Seahawks.

Everything you thought looked improved during the Cards' 94-74 victory over the Hoosiers disappeared faster than you can say, “candy-striped pants.”

But back to Harrell, who spoke with such powerful emotion that visitors stopped talking to other players in the locker room to listen to what was perturbing the one Louisville player who never takes a play off.

“When we came out in the first-half, we came out unprepared on offense and defense,” Harrell said. “Guys were just walking around like they didn't want to play, not prepared to play this game today.

“We got to lay it on the line for 40 minutes. All the little off to the side court stuff, all the stuff we go through, all the little stuff we go through off the court, don't bring that onto the court.

“We don't have time for that. We're looking to get better every day. We're looking to get better as a basketball team. We don't have time to deal with off the court issues. People come into the locker room with egos, with attitudes. We don't have time for that.”

Harrell was only getting warmed up. Trust me. No names. Plenty of fire and criticism. Harrell did not say anything to the media that he did not say to his teammates. That's one reason he's a captain.

“We weren't ready to play,” Harrell said. “When the ball was tipped up from the beginning of the game, we were thinking, ‘It's just UNC Wilmington, they're just going to lay down for us.'

“We've got to get that mindset out of our head. Nobody is going to lay down for us. Everybody is going to come in and give us their best shot every night.”

The next questions were obvious: Why were the Louisville players thinking that way? Egos inflated by sweeping three Big Ten teams -- IU, Minnesota, Ohio State? Guys coming off career nights in Madison Square Garden who were convinced they could dance into a game against a lesser team and score 25 or 30?

“I don't know,” Harrell said. “I can't really say where it's coming from. I don't know how my other teammates think off the court.

“But wherever it's coming from, we need to let it go. We don't have time for it. We're working to do something special here. We're working to build something special here. We can't keep taking steps back and having bad first halves and not being prepared to play once the ball is tipped up.

“We can't have that because if we come in doing that with a team, not taking anything away from UNC Wilmington, like Kentucky, a team like Duke, a team like Syracuse, we come out flat and not ready to play against them, we're going to get beat.

“We've got to be ready to play once the ball is thrown up in the air. It's just the only flat line to it. I don't know what guys deal with off the court and if they need to talk to somebody about it but in between the lines it's time to handle the basketball and that's what we've got to be focused on.”

Maybe this should not have been a surprise. Louisville might have played its best game this season against Indiana. The Cards made three-point shots. They pounded the glass. They forced turnovers. They performed like a team that intended to stay unbeaten – at least until Kentucky visits Dec. 27.

Was that the issue?

“It's tough to say once again, like I said,” Harrell said. “When we get in the locker room we have different people in here that are walking around moody, and not really ready to play. People hanging their head about everything. We can't have that.

“Honestly, before the game I told the guys we're going to go out here and we're going to have a bad first half. The reason why I said that, our walk through, our layup line and the work we did in our pre-game ritual was terrible. We had guys out there walking around. We had guys just throwing the ball up. Wasn't getting prepared to play.

“Honestly, I told them this first half is going to be a war for them. And it proved. We came in up 32-24. It proved. It only comes out what you put in. We've got to be ready to play when the ball is thrown up in the air and tonight we weren't ready. “

Self-satisfaction? The press clippings thing that Pitino mentioned?

“Maybe it was with some guys, but I don't know,” Harrell said. “I'm not that type of player. I come and bring it every night. I feel like if I bring it every night my teammates should do the same exact thing. Like I said, when the ball's thrown up all we have is 40 minutes to play basketball, play Louisville basketball. That's all we have.”

Make no mistake. Harrell was not giving anybody a pass, not even himself – even though he led Louisville with 19 points and 17 rebounds. He missed eight shots. He missed a free throw. He threw the ball way three times.

“When I come in here and holler at everybody, I'm including myself,” Harrell said. “I came in here and told the guys it's time to look at ourselves in the mirror and blame the person that's in the mirror and stop looking to blame everybody else around you. That's including myself.

“So when I come in the locker room I'm not looking to just yell at my teammates and try to pick out and point at who's doing bad. I put myself in it just as well as these guys are my teammates. So me coming in the locker room and yelling to get on them, I'm hoping they take it better from me as from what's coming from the head coach.

“I hope this game opens our eyes. I really hope it does. If we keep coming out playing flat, keep coming out playing against teams, we're going to end up getting beat by a team we shouldn't get beat by. We're going to get surprised.”

Harrell was not finished. He played an essential role on the Cards' 2013 NCAA championship team, so Harrell can play the card that his team does not approach the game in the same selfless manner we saw when Peyton Siva, Luke Hancock and Gorgui Dieng ran the locker room two seasons ago.

Harrell was asked if the start of this season has been a “culture shock?”

“It really is,” he said. “We never had that problem in the locker room with Peyton and Gorgui and those guys. All those guys bought into the program.

“All those guys (were) looking to play for each other. We've just got to get back to that. We've just got to play for the name on the front.”

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