(Photo of Chris Mack: Scott Utterback/Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Returning home to host Kentucky in the annual Battle of the Bluegrass, the Louisville Cardinals broke a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats behind a 62-59 win at the KFC Yum! Center.
Here's what Louisville head coach Chris Mack had to say following the win:
"Not many times that you can not play very well and beat Kentucky, but I thought that's what happened today. We didn't play great and Kentucky had a lot to do with it, they're really athletic and long. I know that they're really inexperienced, but we are as well and that's what it looked like there for a while. To be fortunate enough at the end and I thought our guard play, Carlik and David, despite making too many mistakes with turnovers, they set the table for our team. And as guys learn to play off of them a little bit better, and they play better, I think we will continue to grow as a team. Defensively, we wanted to make them beat us from the outside and [Davion] Mintz got going at the end. He's a tough cover, tough challenge, but he's a guy that's been in college basketball for a long time and makes big time plays. If you can keep them off the glass, which was just okay today, then you have a chance to beat them. It feels good and I'm happy for our crew. I'll give them a few days off for Christmas and then come back and finish up with all ACC games."
(On what jumped out about not playing well)
"I thought the guys followed the game plan. On the defensive end I thought we gave them a rough way to go. I thought we were really tight off the ball. We took a few charges, we didn't necessarily get beat with first shots, we did give up way too many offensive rebounds and I think that's going to be the identity of that Kentucky team. Congrats to them for being on the glass that hard, but we need to do a better job at blocking out. I thought our offense really hurt us in the first half. We were just way to stagnant and I have to find that balance. We are putting the ball in David and Carlik's hands, but the other three guys can't just sit there. When we run set plays, we have to be better at executing those set plays. You have to give Kentucky credit because they switched a lot of ball screens and off the ball screens. We hadn't really seen that a whole lot, but we expected it. We just have to do a better job and once our offense becomes a little less stagnant then we will become better offensively. It's like football, offense and defense work together."
(On Carlik and David settling for 1v1 too early in the shot clock)
"I wouldn't say early in the shot clock. A lot of times those two will get a switch on to them and they will have a guy like a four man or a five like Lance Ware or Isaiah Jackson. We have to get those guys in the lane. And they have to: number one, make better decisions and number two, our guys off the ball have to find passing lanes to help them out, back cuts where we don't step put, and then have the ability to play off of really poor closeouts. The other part is that we've got to make some open threes. I'm not going to single any guy out, because it's a little bit of everybody. I think Quinn [Slazinski] and Josh Nickelberry hit a couple, but it seems like when other guys get open threes, they have to knock a few of those down. That'll relieve a little bit of pressure off of those two ball handlers."
(On not fouling at the end )
"Young team… we certainly wanted to foul. I don't know if there was a misunderstanding, but Jae'Lyn Withers was 90 feet away when his man caught the ball. I know Jae'Lyn needs to get back, but we need to be a little bit closer to each of our guys. You don't think that that their five-man is going to bring the ball up. When we saw that their five bringing the ball up and nobody defending him, somebody ran off of Boston and we gave them a way better look than we should have. We've got to be able to man-up a little bit closer. My one concern was if everybody's matched up and they are taking the ball out of bounce with five seconds, we've got inexperienced guys. Jae'Lyn Withers or somebody else's man sets a back screen, then I don't want to see a 70-foot pass at the end of the game where we don't execute a switch. We had a lot of guys, especially our bigger guys, deeper in safety position. But we want to foul, but have to be relatively close to the guy when he's bringing the ball up."
(On his emotions after the game – relief, joy, happiness?)
"All three of them. I think you're allowed to have more than one emotion and I wanted it for our guys. I felt like last year, our fifth-year seniors and seniors and Jordan [Nwora], I thought those guys played extremely hard - we were up three with a minute and a half and give up an offensive rebound. I felt sick, I felt like we really should have won two in a row, but we didn't. And that's sort of how it is in big-time games like this, the magnitude of the game, guys step up and make plays or they don't and to see our freshman go to the line with it tied and make a free throw and then Carlik [Jones] go to the free throw line, I don't feel too bad when he goes to the line with a few seconds left, I feel like he's going to make it every single time, so… all those emotions."
(On play in the final four minutes)
"He and [Davion] Mintz are arguably the most experienced players on the floor – albeit maybe not at this level, but Carlik can play. He knows he can play. The one concern we had was his size, to get in the lane and to see guys like [Olivier] Sarr and [Isaiah] Jackson and even some of his primary defenders, that's going to require him to loft the ball a little bit higher maybe than he's used to and he's a tough cover. He doesn't just beat you with quickness. He's got a great change of pace game, has a really good feel and if you have two guys sticking on him defensively, he usually finds the open man and does it in a way that that guy gets an open shot or a dump-down layup so we're going to put the ball in his hands and David [Johnson's] hands, we want them to be a dynamic backcourt. We've got to get better in the other positions and – offensively – less stagnant to help those two out and they have to play a little bit better as well."
(On the shot clock violations)
"We talked about it at halftime, we had a few shot clock violations where a guy doesn't know the shot clock's winding down. Every fan in the stands knows. Every fan in the stands knows. The coaches on the floor know, the guys on the bench know. You've got to have an internal clock. If you're off the ball offensively, and somebody's dominating it or moving it, you've got to glance up after you've been running offense for 15-20 seconds to know where that clock is. And we have young guys. Guys didn't play with a shot clock in high school and it's very apparent sometimes. I thought they played with out of bounds lines, in high school, but maybe apparently not, because we keep doing that, but we'll get better at it. And the other thing is you can't put a teammate in a tough position. You have the ball with three seconds on the shot clock and you spray it to a guy who is really highly-covered, what do you expect him to do with two seconds on the clock and really no ability to move or get away and get separation for a shot. So, we've got a long way to go. As happy as I am for our team, I also see a lot of warts that we have to remove and do it quickly."
(On the importance of getting Carlik and David in the paint)
"It's the name of the game for our team. It's the name of the game. We're not going to face a team – maybe Carolina – that's as long and as big as Kentucky and really teaches blocking shots. We did, for the most part, a pretty good job of when we got in the lane making good decisions. We still have a long way to go. Carlik and David, when they get in there, they have to play off two feet. They've got to be strong with the ball and utilize pass fakes and then sometimes you wave a white flag and throw the ball back out. It doesn't always have to be a play made when the ball gets in the lane. That wears on the defense at times. So we're still learning that as a team, but it's super important for our team. Especially when you have a team, defensively, that's switching everything, you're going to necessarily be able to score off of cuts. You're not going to be able to throw the ball where you want to because they're out in passing lanes, so getting the ball in the lane is essential for this team with those two players."
(On being effective against Olivier Sarr today)
"I thought our fives, they did a terrific job, for the most part, of pushing him out. They fronted him when they could. We had really good backside help, so it eliminated sort of the lobs over the top that we got hurt on the last couple games. and then when he did catch it, I felt like he was a little bit in a beehive. I thought our guys had great awareness. We wanted Sarr to pass the ball out. We didn't want him to pass the ball in, like interior. So if Isaiah Jackson was on the perimeter, Sarr catches it and he dove, we didn't want a little interior pass for a dunk or a layup. We wanted him to throw it out on the perimeter. And I thought when he did have some low-post catches, we did a really good job of that. And on his ball screen where he pops, and they ran that at the end of the game like they did against Notre Dame, we really wanted to rotate out and take away his shot first and make him make a passing or dribbling decision. I thought our guys were really in-tune to that part of the game."
(Obviously Kentucky's length played a role in this, but it was a struggle to get the offensive rebounds. I don't think you had a second chance point until the second half. Was that part of the halftime discussion on things that needed to be improved, and when you're struggling from there, what can you do to improve things in that aspect?)
"We didn't really talk about offensive rebounding at halftime. If halftime were 60 minutes, we could address everything. But you get limited time. You have about four or five minutes to talk to your coaching staff and really try to take everything that's been plaguing you or bothering you and filter it down, and then deliver that message strongly to your team. While we weren't great offensive rebounders, I didn't think pounding my fist on the table and screaming at those guys to give better effort is an area that we were going to expose them. My biggest concern was how stagnant we were. And with them switching ball screens. And they hadn't done that, leading up to the game. We wanted to make sure that we addressed that, so that we can help Carlik and David, and that's what we did. We got the ball in the lane a lot more in the second half. We had less turnovers in the second half. That was the biggest point of emphasis. That and trying to keep them off the glass."
(On David Johnson playing through mistakes)
"Yeah, I think it discourages his coach more than it discourages him. He's had a lot of turnovers the last two games leading up to this one. Four is not outrageous. I can't have it both ways. I can't say 'hey, you need to make a play when you have the ball and get your teammates involved and get in the lane and do things for us, and by the way, have zero turnovers.' If I wanted him to be a set the table point guard and just sort of dribble into the lane very, very softly and throw it out, he could have zero turnovers at the end of the game, but he wouldn't create a whole lot. So, I'm going live with some of Dave's recklessness. I want him to eventually continue to get better and better and better. I want him to be aggressive. He needs to be - both he and Carlik. But yeah, we've got to keep Dave's turnovers down, but I thought he kept playing and he was named the Player of the Game, made some big shots, free throws as well, and I thought defensively he was up to the challenge."
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