TRANSCRIPT | UC Irvine coach Russell Turner talks about facing L - WDRB 41 Louisville News

TRANSCRIPT | UC Irvine coach Russell Turner talks about facing Louisville, Pitino

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SEATTLE (WDRB) — UC Irvine coach Russell Turner, who has led the Anteaters to the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, took the podium for Thursday's news conference before Friday night's game against the University of Louisville.

Turner got plenty of questions about his 7-6 center, Mamadou Ndiaye, and a couple about facing Cardinals' Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. His comments, as provided by ASAP Sports:

Q. What are your impressions of Louisville after having a couple days to look at them, strengths, maybe some areas where you can go after them?

TURNER: Well, we know Louisville is an outstanding program led by a Hall of Fame coach with great tradition in this tournament. We knew all that the day we saw their name on the Selection Show. Since watching them, what I recognize is that they are like us. They're a defensive-oriented team first. They have great athleticism, strength at every position defensively. They really bother teams when they can take the ball away from them. So we will have to do a great job with that. They're an outstanding rebounding team. They really attack the glass to score. They're a formidable opponent, and we know that.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about how your team is different with Mamadou on the floor or not on the floor and how much better he makes you, if you're completely different, and what -- if he has the potential, if he can stay on the floor, to really dominate in the tournament.

TURNER: Well, we're different when he's out there because we have a guy who is a half foot taller than anybody's ever seen on the floor. (Laughter). I think that's especially a factor when a team is playing against Mamadou for the first time, because it's hard to imagine his size, his height, and his length. So he's a great presence. He really affects the game on both ends, because people don't realize how strong he is offensively. He's not a guy that is easily moved from his spot, and so you have to pay a lot of attention to him when he's out there. Because if he catches the ball near the basket on the offense, offensive end, he's really effective with his field goal percentage. We have known since last year when Mamadou was a freshman that we are a good enough team defensively when he's out there most of the time to play well with anybody. That's something I think we still believe. We have gotten better at playing with him on both ends of the floor, because it's really different for us as well to play with a guy with his size and the elements that he brings to the game. I feel so fortunate that we have got him. He's an incredible fit at UC Irvine. He wants the academic challenge that we have given him. He's one of the most charismatic players I've ever been around. So he's a real personality on campus.

Q. Rick Pitino's had to make some changes, personnel, losing Chris Jones, and recently has changed the structure of his defense, I think, as he put it, to simplify it or dumb it down for freshmen. Can you see a difference as you look at the film pre-Jones dismissal and post-Jones?

TURNER: Anytime you lose one of your top players, there's a difference. I don't feel sorry for him. We have had to go through that this year as well with Mamadou missing a bunch of games and Luke Nelson on our team, among other guys. So, that's part of it. That's all the adjustments that go in to facing adversities you face during the season. As for how they're different, yeah, Jones was one of their most athletic guys, one of their best steals players. Defensively he's a difference-making perimeter guy. But they're very, very good in replacing him too. There are other recruits and athletes that Louisville has that are outstanding. So, they miss him, clearly. But they're also very good in his absence.

Q. I want to ask you about separating the lore from the reality. If you look through Louisville's history and their record books, it can be intimidating. Even going against someone like Rick Pitino, do you get caught up in that a little bit, I mean, I'm going against -- here's a guy that's -- seven Final Fours, and do you have to catch yourself from getting too caught up in that?

TURNER: No. I think that's a media thing. Maybe a fan thing. I know our players don't feel that way about Louisville. I know we respect them tremendously. I respect Coach Pitino tremendously. I'm sure he's not afraid of facing me. I guarantee you I'm no more afraid of facing him. Pound for pound, he's better than I am. Maybe dollar for dollar, I got him. (Laughter.)

Q. You already said that the players are not worried about Louisville, but how do you reinforce that going into the next few days leading up to the game, or is it already there and you don't even have to tell them that, hey, doesn't matter that we're facing Louisville, just go out there and play?

TURNER: We have competitors. If you've been around competitors the way I have, you know that there's not likely to be intimidation unless it's somehow created. They're not going to see that from me. I'm not intimidated. I don't think our staff's intimidated. I don't believe that they're ever even going to think about being intimidated. We know that we faced incredible pressure to win in the Big West Tournament, and we did that. We overcame that hurdle. Last year we weren't able to do it. So I feel like we have grown. That's the story of our team. We have gotten better. We're a team. I think we're well unified. We have good chemistry. We're together. We're ready to compete.

Q. Mamadou, when he was asked about his recruitment, he made it sound pretty simple, just he was nearby, you asked him if he wanted to come there, and he did. I mean, what went into that? Obviously there were a lot of schools interested in somebody with his size. What went into actually getting him?

TURNER: Well, I mean, it's just an incredibly long story and an interesting one, I think. When he came, he came to a prep school called Stoneridge which has recruited a ton of international players which is in Simi Valley. He then found out he needed to have lifesaving surgery, or life-altering surgery, at least, on a tumor that was on his pituitary gland. He had that at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and then was adopted by a nurse there and lived with their family in Huntington Beach, which is not far from our campus. We had gotten to know him before the surgeries had happened. Then, so after that happened, he was around our campus a lot. So he was familiar with our gym, with our coaches, and with the community around Irvine. You can imagine, it's not easy to walk around if you're him and feel comfortable everywhere, but he quickly came to feel comfortable at Irvine. I think the recruiting process for him was interesting because so many people were unsure about him as a player and just as many or more were unsure about him as student. The turning moment in his recruitment I think was somewhere in his junior year he came to my house, he and his family did, and I live on campus, so that was part of the reason they were able to come to my house. We talked about his possible path toward eligibility, which he believed was, he and his family believed was, not something that could happen. They didn't think he could get NCAA eligible because of all of the hurdles they would have to overcome to do that. It struck me then how badly Mamadou wanted not just the opportunity to play Division I basketball, which I think every kid dreams of, but he wanted the education that was going to be required of him to qualify for the NCAA and at UC Irvine. So we helped lay a path out for that. That required an incredible commitment on his part and on his family's part. We helped see that through. That, I think, was, in the end, the thing that made the biggest difference in recruiting. We became trusted with them over a course of a long period of time. So, when some of the bigger schools -- and they came late -- they couldn't overcome us.

Q. You played an Arizona team, nationally prominent team a couple months ago and played them well for quite a while. Wondering what your takeaway was from that game and if there's anything you can apply now when you're in another big situation.

COACH TURNER: Yeah, I hope there's something we can apply. Arizona maybe a higher ranked defensive team than Louisville is. So we knew that it was going to be a difficult game there. But we found things in that game that we were able to do successfully and gain some confidence from that. That was a game that was on the road and one of the best environments for college basketball that there is. So that was tremendous adversity we faced in that game. We faced it really well for 32 minutes, and then they overwhelmed us at the end. I think we could have kept from being overwhelmed. I think that score in that game was a little misleading because we tried to foul to stay in the game and they made all their free throws and we weren't able to convert after that, but there was a strong takeaway from that game that we're good. We can be good. We were not able to sustain that every night during the season. We were inconsistent because we had so many guys in and out of the lineup, Mamadou primarily but also Luke Nelson, John Ryan. We had a bunch of guys who missed time for us this season. What that has allowed us to do, however, is develop our depth. I now think we're a deep team and a team that's confident in our ability to make plays.

Q. As Louisville made the change at point guard, how do you evaluate them from a scouting standpoint? Do you look at the games after Quentin Snider came in, or do you look at the whole season when you scout this team?

TURNER: We focused on the games after Jones left the team more than the others, clearly, because it would be foolish not to do that. But we have not ignored the others. I've got a really incredibly hardworking staff that's been at work since about 3:15 on Louisville. I saw something that said that they claim they were scouting us before they got the draw. Good for them if they were. We weren't doing that. (Laughter.)

Q. Regarding Mamadou and his evolution as a basketball player, do you see teams attacking him differently now and how much of that is predicated on trying to get him in foul trouble?

TURNER: That's a good question. Yeah, I think teams know that when he's off the floor, something changes. The biggest issue that we faced with Mamadou is flopping, teams that flop. That's been an effective strategy at times against him this year. But one of the teams that was most effective in flopping against Mamadou was the team we beat in the semi-finals of our tournament, and I believe that the basketball gods in the end don't reward flopping.

Q. As a follow up, a lot of it is difficult for him because I know there's a couple plays where he just turns around and just because of his size he's in somebody's face. Is there anything that you can coach that can change that or to keep the ball higher?

TURNER: That's also an interesting question. What I think gets the officials crossed up from time to time -- I mean, guys, Mamadou's incredibly difficult to officiate. I do that in practice. It's not easy. In fact, I bought MMA headgears for my backup post players that they have worn because he is big and he's powerful, and for that reason he's dangerous when he just makes normal basketball plays. When he pivots legally and his elbows are up, if you're in the wrong spot, you're going to have a problem. Now, I've coached against -- I've coached a bunch of really good, big, powerful big guys, and I had my head in there playing defense in practice. Mamadou's different. I mean, he's a different sized guy. He's got different power. I worry that the rule that exists in college basketball about elbow contact to heads is one that officials can't get their arms completely around sometimes. I think that that rule is really difficult because it doesn't allow in its words for officials to use discretion with elbow contact to head sometimes. That's unfair to a guy like Mamadou. He ends up -- if that rule is adjudicated according to only the letters and the words, he ends up sometimes being punished unfairly. I have to have faith that that will get called right. The refs in this tournament are the best ones. They're the best ones and the most experienced ones. I imagine they will be well prepared. I know that Mamadou goes out of his way to play without fouling. He does everything he can to play without fouling. If he really wanted to be aggressive in a way that could hurt somebody, he would and he would hurt people. He doesn't do that. He's good to his teammates. And when he plays in the game, he makes strong moves, but he makes moves that are reasonable and legal.

For comments from UC Irvine's players on Friday's matchup, click the ASAP Sports link here.

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