(Photo of Chris Mack: Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After having the contest against Virginia Tech cancelled due to COVID-19 issues with the Hokies, the Louisville men's basketball program is now left with just one game left on the regular season.
Next up for the Cardinals (13-5, 8-4 ACC), they will host the Virginia Cavaliers (16-6, 12-4 ACC) as part of their annual Senior Night. Tipoff is scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 6 at 4:00pm EST, and can be viewed on ESPN2.
Before the Cardinals face the Cavaliers, head coach Chris Mack and graduate transfer guard Carlik Jones took time to meet with the media. They discussed the upcoming matchup against Virginia, did some reflecting on the last year, and more.
Below is the transcript from their press conference as well as the videos:
Head Coach Chris Mack
(On how difficult has it been to find a level of consistency and a rhythm when it comes to playing the games during this year)
Well, it's a heck of a lot easier when it's your team that doesn't go on the pause. We were still able to come back and practice, and have another day for Virginia. If you're talking about the pauses that we incurred, I think we've talked about that enough. It's just not easy. Young team, trying to instill habits and keep your conditioning. It's tough. But having said that, we didn't necessarily miss anything, other than being able to play on Wednesday night. We still practiced. I'd like to think that our team's gotten better over these last three days, and are ready to go against a really good team tomorrow.
(On last year's ACC Tournament, and how he remembers the evening before it was cancelled)
I just remember is as a fast series of events. It just seemed like it was a domino effect of - you get a little bit of tiny news, and then you hear something else, from Fred Hoiberg being sick on the bench, to Rudy Gobert, to no fans, to the next day the Big 10 Tournament being canceled. Things were just happening at such a fast rate, that it was hard to process everything that was going on. At the same time, we had focused on two teams, because we weren't sure who were playing. Syracuse or North Carolina. We were going to play the winner. While all that was happening Tuesday and Wednesday, our thought was 'how do we prepare our team for two different teams?' Two teams that we had played played previously, but presented complete opposite challenges. Obviously, we didn't get to face Syracuse who ultimately won, but I thought our preparation, and time in the gym, and time in the film room was valuable, and we were ready to go. But you know you had to be living in a cave not to know everything that was going on around you.
(On UVA grad transfer Sam Hauser, and how he has evolved from his time at Marquette)
Well, he's older. I think he does a lot more off the dribble than he ever used to at Marquette. I think that just comes with experience, and the way that opponents play him. He's such a prolific three point shooter, that you either become one dimensional and just always are a terrific three point shooter and can't get off as many shots, or you figure out ways to evolve and figure out ways to be even more successful. I think he's able to put the ball on the floor much better than he could at Marquette, he plays with his back to the basket at times, which I don't remember seeing at Marquette. Maybe he did, but that wasn't in something in the scouting report. I think he's become a much better defensive player as well. So, like a lot of guys that mature and care about the game of basketball, he's got a lot better over the course of the last two, three years since I saw him last.
(On if he's had a chance to reflect on how much of a challenge it has been to get to this point and what they learned about themselves this season)
I don't do a lot of reflecting during the year. The only time I really do it is when I get asked questions like this, which seems to be quite often. That's not being disparaging, it's just you get questions by ESPN, or your radio show, or press conference, about the challenges that COVID has presented. From the pauses that we've talked about, to - traveling is very strange. Eating meals either in your room, that are supposed to be team meals, or like you're taking the ACT. Everybody's six feet apart, and don't really look at each other. Then you walk in the gym, and there's nobody in there except the other team, and it feels like a scrimmage. Other than our experience here at Yum, that's pretty much been what it's felt like. Having said that, we've had really good fans that have come out, as many that had been allowed. I know that that number has been upped for tomorrow. I beg and urge Cardinal fans (to come out) tomorrow. Our guys have been through a lot, and it'd be great to see as packed a house as we can get, as we're allowed. For those guys, the sacrifices they've made, wearing masks in practice, being away from family members for such a long time, and playing to represent their school, and the great people of this community, it'd be awesome. I think the Yum! officials do a great job of keeping everybody spaced, still enjoying a really good experience. They do serve beer now, I know that wasn't the case in the very beginning. So there's that. We would love to see as many fans as we can here tomorrow, that'd be awesome.
(On what Virginia does offensively)
I think that they play a little faster, at least their decisions in transition have been a little bit more risque. They've shot the ball in transition from three. It just seemed like the last few years in the times I've followed Tony (Bennett)'s teams, whatever happened on on their defensive and they were going to walk the ball up. That's not the case. Kihei (Clark) will push it, their guys will spot up, they've got terrific three point shooters. They try to free those guys in transition, maybe a little bit more than in previous years. I think they have a unique player in Jay Huff. Every time I see him, it seems like he grows. I'm anxious to see how tall he is this time around, but seven-foot-one, I never feel like does it justice. He's a threat around the basket for any type of lob. He's shooting the ball as well as any player in our conference from three at that size, and they have other guys that are shooting the ball equally as well. I mentioned (Sam) Hauser before, but it's not just those two. They've got a plethora of guys that can shoot the ball from distance. So they really spaced you out. Kihei has always managed the game as a quintessential point guard, and I think he's doing an excellent job you know getting getting in the lane and getting those guys shots. It starts with their shooting ability, and then I like I said, a unique player in Jay Huff.
Guard Carlik Jones
(On how important the double buy is in the ACC Tournament)
I think it's very important. Especially just having a long season, getting a double bye allows you to watch other teams, gives you time to prepare, and sometimes just kind of watch games and stuff to see who you'll be playing. It kind of sometimes gives you some days to catch up on some rest for the team and stuff like that. It is definitely huge. You don't have to play as many games as everyone else when you have a double bye. So, it is definitely important. I've played four straight games before (in the Big South Tournament) and I've also had a bye where I just had to play three games, and it felt a whole lot better just playing those three games instead of having to play all four.
(On what it was like to fly to Virginia Tech, only to immediately have to turn around)
It was a little disappointing, just because we were prepared for them. I think we were all locked in, and ready for that game. Just to kind of - we want to get rolling and get kind of a win streak going on towards the end of the season, and going into tournament play. I think that we were all kind of upset about it, but I think we were able to turn the page quickly, just knowing that - we're kind of getting used to some our games being canceled. It's happened before, so I think we kind of looked at it as it's happened before. Next day, next page. We quickly turned our attention to Virginia, and I feel like the guys have been very locked in this week. We're just going to stay ready and getting prepared.
(On what he has seen out of Virginia)
We expect a good team. I know they had a little losing streak before playing against Miami, and I think they went on a three game losing streak. But they're still a good team. They're figuring it out. Everyone has ups and downs during the year, but I still believe that they're a good team. They're a great defensive team, I think they're a pretty good defensive team. Pack line defense, and they have some players. They have players that can drive the ball, shoot the ball. (Jay) Huff is a good player, (Sam) Hauser's a good player. We're just gonna have to play. We're gonna have to be ready, we're gonna have to be on top of our game, and be prepared to play them tomorrow.
(On why they have been successful defensively on the perimeter)
Just really knowing personnel. I think our coaches do a great job on our personnel. Just telling us who's shooters, who's drivers, and I think the team has kind of took pride in in learning our personnel. Learning what player does what, what their strengths and weaknesses are. I think what's gone a long way with our defense, is we have each other's back. We're always in the gaps, and we've learned early in the season that if we make guys work for shots, and make tough ones, then we'll be pretty good.
(On what this year has been like for him)
It's definitely a little different. I know coming in, I was kind of prepared to play in front of 20,000 some nights and stuff like that. But I think it's been a heck of an experience. Just playing for what is a bigger arena than my old school, the fans, just being here honestly. The experience has been great. I was thinking about it the other day, and it's just like, we might not have the same amount of fans and stuff, but the energy in the gym, how hard the fans go for the team is pretty amazing. I've had a great experience. I've loved it all year long, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
(On what it would mean to win ACC Player of the Year)
It'll mean a lot. It would definitely mean a lot. Just because my thought process of coming here, is I wanted to be able to accomplish and do and be effective how I did in the Big South. To be able to come over here to Louisville, and kind of still be that effective and productive, and possibly win another Player of the Year award, would be huge. That'd be a big accomplishment for myself. Hopefully I can get it, I can win it.
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