CRAWFORD | Eight highlights from Rick Pitino's radio show - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Eight highlights from Rick Pitino's radio show

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They had to alter plans for University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino's show Monday night after the snowstorm during the day, but this show was a hot one. Pitino addressed a number of issues, from the last game to next year, with plenty of opinion in between.

With classes canceled at U of L, Pitino told host Paul Rogers that the team went through two practices on Monday to address some of its issues, and that the practices were good ones. A few other points he made in the hour-long program, produced by Learfield Sports.

1. DEFENSIVE MISTAKES. Pitino said after reviewing the N.C. State game on tape, the coaching staff counted 31 defensive errors or “miscues,” as he called them.

“If you have anything more than ten it's a lot, so 31 is poor execution, poor effort at the defensive end, and it all was a result of not being able to score offensively and taking it out on your defense, and that was disturbing to me as a basketball coach. So we addressed those issues and I thought we responded positively (in practice).”

Pitino said that by comparison, the staff counted only 12 miscues in the loss to Virginia.

“This was the only game this year when I was really, really disappointed in the team,” Pitino said.

2. DEFLECTION DEPRESSION. The biggest defensive problem, Pitino said, is a lack of activity that leads to deflections. That's the most prized stat in Rick Pitino's system. For a discussion of deflections and this season's team, see my column from the N.C. State game on Saturday. Players get credit for a deflection if they block a shot, tip a pass, get a steal, force a turnover or otherwise cause a disruption to the defense. Pitino said this season's team is on pace to be the lowest-deflection team he's coached at Louisville.

“We haven't reached our deflection total,” he said. “We talked a lot about that. I'm going to actually put it on my website the next day (after games), the deflection total and the players who get the deflections.”

But more than that, the lack of deflection points to deficiency in the half-court defense.

“Where we're really lacking, when you get zero steals against Virginia, it's your half-court defense,” Pitino said. “And that, once again, is very poor hand activity, poor rotation defensively. That last game was as poor rotating — now Cat Barber put on a clinic of beating everybody off the dribble — he really did a number on our guards, did a number on our bigs, escaped the baseline. He's the first guard to do that to us this season so give credit to him.”

Pitino said fixing its defensive woes will be the key to the team's postseason prospects.

“You've got to identify your weaknesses and do something about it, and we've got some very strong defensive weaknesses,” he said. “Our lateral quickness in guarding the ball has been very poor, our deflection totals have been the lowest they've been since I've been here, our steals are down, and it's not just full court. It's not the press, because you get most of your deflections in the half-court, and it hasn't been good this year. So we've cured some of our rebounding woes, and some of our passing woes, but we still have to become a great defensive team.”

3. BACKING OFF THE PRESS. Pitino said he's having to concede that while the press is still worth using in certain situations, he may back off of it in the coming games.

“To be honest with you, from Day 1 of practice, this has not been a great pressing team,” Pitino told Rogers. “The thing about Russ Smith, the thing about Peyton Siva, even Luke Hancock, is they used their hands. The only one that's really good on our press is Chris Jones, and he's good on the ball, he's not good in recovering. So we're going to use our press sparingly. We needed it to beat Pittsburgh, to come from behind, we needed to come from behind against North Carolina, but this is not a real good pressing team, our three and four don't do a great job with it, our two man is not great with it, Chinanu (Onuaku) is not bad but he gets tired a lot. So we're going to use it when we're down, we're going to use it for changes, but not a steady diet of it.”

4. ENHANCED MANDATE: GET THE BALL TO HARRELL. After watching tape of Saturday's loss, Pitino got tired of watching Montrezl Harrell, his junior preseason All-American, get open in the post without receiving the ball. So he delivered a message to his players.

“We went to Montrezl Harrell in the paint 13 times,” Pitino said. “He threw it away a few times, but every other time he got fouled or we got some good things. I told them, if he's open and you don't get him the ball, you're coming out of the game. Because you're not going to ignore him.”

Pitino acknowledged there are times when Harrell doesn't do enough to get himself open, but there are far more when he's open and doesn't get the ball.

“There were times where we called plays and he came off that high pick-and-roll and he was open and we didn't get him the ball. And that's just not going to happen anymore,” he said. “Here's the situation: When he gets trapped outside the lane, he's going to have to be a passer. But if he will duck in more consistently, in the lane, they won't be able to double-team him. And that's when we kept missing him, when he ducked into the lane.”

One problem: The Cardinals guards may well not be able to see Harrell when playing against bigger backcourts — like N.C. State's, Virginia's or Kentucky's.

5. GOING WITH MORE MAHMOUD. He concedes that 7-foot freshman Anas Mahmoud is going to have trouble with Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas, but said he's going to start having to go to him anyway, because of what he brings to the table offensively — particularly against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.

“We've got to play Anas more in this game because he can pass the ball and he's tall and can see it (the zone),” Pitino said. “The problem we're going to have with Anas is Rakeem Christmas is going to push him around.”

Still, Pitino said, in the overall scheme, “I've got to start to play him, even though he's going to get hurt (on defense), because Mangok (Mathiang) is just not catching the ball and finishing inside as much, so I've got to start playing him more and live with his weakness, because he gives us more passing, he's a bigger target, he's got good offensive moves, and more good things happen (when he's in).”

6. PITINO FELT BAD FOR RUSS SMITH AND GORGUI DIENG. The two former Cardinal breaks came down to watch U of L face N.C. State during the All-Star break, and Pitino said he hated that they saw his team's first bad performance of the season.

“I was very embarrassed for those two guys being there,” Pitino said. “The way we passed and played defense, I was embarrassed that they had to see us play that way.”

7. KENTUCKY: “FOCUSED” AND “UNSELFISH.” Asked about the national college basketball landscape, Pitino had high praise for the Cardinals' in-state rivals.

“Kentucky is a very focused team, very unselfish team,” Pitino said. “They don't care about points, they don't care about minutes, they're sharing everything. And they're very focused to do something special. Obviously, if they go undefeated in the regular season, they may just do that. I think that Kentucky's in a class by themselves. Then I'd look at Wisconsin, Duke and Gonzaga.”

8. REBUILDING JOB AHEAD. Pitino said next season is going to be a different kind of season for the Louisville program.

“We're going to have to do a lot of what (Indiana's) Tom Crean is doing next year, in terms of the ball moving, creating more shots,” Pitino said when asked about next season. “We're not going to have a Montrezl Harrell, we're not going to have a Rozier or Jones, but that doesn't mean we can't have a good basketball team. Look, we're definitely going to be rebuilding, but rebuilding doesn't mean losing. Rebuilding means creating a new culture with new players. And we've got to bring in a couple of fifth-year seniors who can add to this young team and help them develop.”

Pitino said the staff is watching potential fifth-year players around the nation, but has no idea who will be available, and can't have any contact with any of them.

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