Category Archives: Rick Pitino

Louisville 71, UConn 61: Wrapping Things Up In Memphis, On To The Big Dance

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Rick Pitino, RPI, Russ Smith, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
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MEMPHIS – Okay, time to look ahead, not back. It is tournament time and the Huskies, after an empty end to last season, know they will be back.

“It’s a great thing to hopefully see your name being called,” Shabazz Napier said, “and with your teammates and everybody smiling and knowing we have a chance to hoist another trophy.”

The Huskies will experience that Sunday night as they watch the selection show. It looks like they’re going to be a No. 5 seed, they could play Harvard, they could play North Dakota State, they could go to Buffalo, Spokane, St. Louis, Orlando … who cares at this point? They’re going somewhere, and that’s what they all came to UConn, or came back to UConn or stayed at UConn to do.

They lost to Louisville again, and if they play them a fourth time, it would be hard to make an argument for things being any different. Louisville is just better right now, but the Cardinals are just better than all but a handful of teams. The UConn wins over Memphis and Cincinnati are the operatives here, they gave the Huskies their mojo back.

And with a 26-8 record, there’s no reason to be anything but confident. “If we get to Dallas, nobody’s going to be thinking about this game,” Ryan Boatright said.

Kevin Ollie: “We want to win a national championship. … We’re going to go deep into this tournament, that’s our goal.”

Here’s Kevin Ollie’s complete postgame take:

 “The first half we came out and established ourselves, we got down about 14 and anytime you spot a team like Louisville 14 points it’s hard to come back.  We did some good things in the second half.  I was proud of our guys that we kept fighting.  Now we go into the next tournament.  We want to win a national championship.  I still believe in this team, we got to clean things up but I like our execution in the second half and we got to show heart and compete and that’s what I like and hopefully it carries over to the NCAA Tournament.

“No, I’m not into moral victories, but I did like how we responded the second half, just with the ball movement we had, getting Amida going, he had 14 points, most of them came in Continue reading

UConn vs. Louisville: One More Time, Setting The Scene in Memphis

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, Niels Giffey, Phil Nolan, Rick Pitino, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, UConn men's basketball
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MEMPHIS – Looking live at the FedEx Arena, the Huskies and Cardinals go for the American Athletic Conference title in about half an hour. Let’s set the scene:

As always, a steady stream of well-wishers come down to say hello to Jim Calhoun, seated to my right, or ask for a picture. … The coach likes what he’s seen, and he is upbeat, let’s put it that way.

Anticipating same lineup for UConn: Niels Giffey, Phil Nolan, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels.

Tyler Olander is here, out on the floor with his teammates, so he’s apparently recovered sufficiently from his stomach bug.

Your refs: Ted Valentine, Gerry Pollard, Steve Olson.

I’m guessing there will be maybe 7-8,000 here when all is said and done. Louisville is 385 miles away, and there were a lot of red-clad tourists out on Beale Street today, so there will be more pro-Cardinal noise here.

At the tail end of last night’s game, the refs did review the Sean Kilpatrick miss, but didn’t see anything to change the ruling.

Thanks to Joe D. for having me on his pregame show. Hope you-all gave a listen.

After last night’s game, Kevin Ollie was asked about his summer with the Celtics in 1999, when Rick Pitino cut him.

“Rick – actually I grew so much with Rick that summer,” he said, “so I became a better point guard with him and he came to the decision where he had to let me go but when you have a set?back like that it just gets you ready for another opportunity.  It’s nothing against Rick, I love Rick to death.  He’s a Hall of Fame coach, he’s a great coach, a good friend of mine and I could learn a lot from Rick Pitino.”

Here is a Selection Sunday primer we did for the Sunday Courant.

UConn vs. Memphis: Setting the Scene at FedEx Forum

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Amida Brimah, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, Larry Brown, Niels Giffey, Phil Nolan, Rick Pitino, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
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MEMPHIS – Looking live at the court at the FedEx Center. Cincinnati has fought off Central Florida, 61-58, in a very characteristic, Cincinnati-like game. Sean Kilpatrick scored 21.

Now it’s UConn vs. Memphis in about 25 minutes.  Jim Calhoun and his son, Jeff, are sitting courtside. The FedEx Forum has been filling steadily the last hour or so, folks catching the second half of the early game. It will be completely loaded for the host team.

The Huskies heard the boos as they came out on the floor just now.

Hearing that UConn will tweak the starting lineup tonight:

Phil Nolan is expected to start at center in place of Amida Brimah, and Niels Giffey for Lasan Continue reading

Shabazz Napier, Russ Smith or Sean Kilpatrick? AAC Coaches Discuss …

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino, Russ Smith, Sean Kilpatrick, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
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Just finished the conference call with American Athletic Conference coaches, and nearly all were asked for their take on the league’s player of the year.

The major candidates are Shabazz Napier, Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati and Russ Smith of Louisville, and it will be revealed in Memphis on Wednesday. The coaches vote, usually after a discussion with their assistants.

Lot of non-committal comments, but it kind of sounds like Kilpatrick is the front-runner. We’ll give you a few samples.

Larry Brown: “Our league has some incredible players. Kilpatrick, Napier and Smith, I can’t imagine a league having three better guards. Kilpatrick, he does everything in my mind, a great leader, unselfish, he could score more if he were to hunt shots. I don’t know how you chose from those three, it’s a very, very tough call to make.”

Eddie Jordan: “Those three guys stand out. As far as a big guard, Napier is a little smaller but he has that role. He looks for contact. He’s the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak. Player-of-the-year is just a tough call.”

Mick Cronin: “I don’t have to make a case for Sean, he made it. He made it emphatically; he made it night in and night out.”

Kevin Ollie: “Shabazz is just the heartbeat of our team. He leads us in all the important categories, minutes played, rebounds, scoring , assists – he just means so much to our team dynamic. I know Kilpatrick is same way, when they need a big shot, a play to happen, it seems like he’s always making it. Big-time players step up to big time moments, [Kilpatrick] has done that, not one, two moments but all year. If he got it, it would be a worthy choice.”

Josh Pastner: “Napier’s a stud. … Kilpatrick’s a stud, he was a stud against us Awesome.”

Donnie Jones: “Kilpatrick has been special for Cincinnati, they’ve been tough. Napier’s terrific, Smith is terrific. Kilpatrick, what he’s done night in and night out has probably been the most impressive I’ve seen on our conference.”

Fran Dunphy: “Shabazz Napier, he’s a good a player as there is in the country. I’ve just been so impressed with him. Kilpatrick has been unbelievable, Smith has been unbelievable.”

Rick Pitino: [Kilpatrick is] the most valuable – if you took him out of Cincinnati, it would hurt them tremendously, they count on him so much at the end of games. … Russ smith is valuable for us, I’m sure UConn would say Napier is very valuable for them. We’ve been to back-to-back back Final Fours, won a national championship and we certainly couldn’t have accomplished any of that without Russ Smith.”

 

Louisville 81, UConn 48: Wrapping Things Up at YUM! Center

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Kemba Walker, Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, UConn men's basketball
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LOUISVILLE  – One thing UConn has never been under Kevin Ollie is embarrassed. Shabazz Napier threw that word out post-game, and if I remember right it was the first time I remember a UConn player saying it since the last loss here, 80-59, in 2012.

It was apt, too. This was an embarrassing loss. UConn was out run, outhustled, outmuscled, and, by Ollie’s admission, out-coached (see below). Louisville is playing its best basketball at the right time of the season, as Rick Pitino’s teams often do.

The Huskies are not. Really, the last five games – the loss to SMU, the come-from-behind win at lowly South Florida, the ugly win over Cincinnati, the too-close-for-comfort win against Rutgers and this 81-48 debacle at Louisville do not constitute an impressive, end-of-the-season body of work. Though, at 24-7, 12-6 in the league, UConn’s season must be considered a good one. But it’s hard to take the Huskies seriously as a title contender when they lose like this, and go 1-5 against the top three teams in their league.

Really, same old stories – no inside game, no crisp passing game against a quality zone defense, too many ill-advised shots. Like in the SMU game, UConn shot less than 30 percent.

Ollie, who spoke for about 3 ½ minutes, was pretty blunt.

 Here you go, in his own words:

“Louisville took advantage of everything we did, and I’m the first one, I’m on the front line. We weren’t ready to play. Louisville took advantage of everything. Coach Pitino coached a hell of a team and those players played. They played like champions and we didn’t. I told the guys if we play like that, then we have two games [left] in the season and that’s it.

I didn’t see anything like this coming, and I’m glad it came because now we know how tough we have to play to be a champion. Louisville is a champion. We weren’t tough Continue reading

Huskies Heading Into Most Hostile Of Environments

by Categorized: George Blaney, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, Niels Giffey, Rick Pitino, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, UConn men's basketball
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LOUISVILLE – There are “hostile environments,” and then there is the KFC YUM! Center. It’s an arena that combines NBA size with a college-campus feel, and when the 21,000-plus who pack the place sniff weakness, there’s no place to run or hide.

“We have to stay together as a unit,” Tyler Olander said this week. “The YUM center is probably the toughest place to play, as soon as they see you falling apart they just jump on you. They’ll get Continue reading

Rick Pitino: ‘We’ll Miss UConn.’

by Categorized: Amida Brimah, Big East, Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino, UConn men's basketball
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LOUISVILLE – Got to town in time for the Cardinals interview opportunities. Louisville honors its own exceptional senior class on Saturday, so the focus was on Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephen Van Treese and Tim Henderson.

But Pitino took a moment to talk about UConn and about his long relationship with Jim Calhoun.

The Cardinals have won eight of the last nine against the Huskies, the only loss coming in the Big East Tournament in 2011. They have beaten Kevin Ollie’s teams twice by double-digits, including 76-64 at Gampel on Jan. 18. With Louisville joining the ACC next year, this marks the last UConn-Louisville conference game … for now.

Here’s Pitino:

“It’s not me having success, it’s the players having success. I haven’t scored a bucket in 12 years I’ve been here.

We’ve had great games against them.They’ve got a great backcourt, we have a great back court. They have a center [Amida Brimah] that, I said earlier, has really gotten a lot Continue reading

Louisville 76, UConn 64: Wrapping Things Up From Gampel

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, AP Top 25, Daniel Hamilton, DeAndre Daniels, Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
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STORRS – A few thoughts and quotes off UConn’s loss to Louisville.

How bad was the officiating? Rare is a game, in any sport any level any time, that people don’t think the officiating was atrocious. From where I sat, it looked like a terrible “no-call” and I could see Kevin Ollie going ballistic there.

As he said, you can’t lose your composure. But it happens, it’s part of coaching.

And the bottom line, UConn was not winning this game. Louisville, which is getting its act together, overmatched them. Manhandled them. Officiating is what it is.

The game story for the Sunday Courant.

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Ryan Boatright: “I respected it. I’m glad [Ollie] had our backs. He was saying what we all couldn’t say. Some of those calls were ridiculous. That call he got kicked out on was definitely a foul. He stood up for us.”

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Brian O’Connell worked the Georgetown-Seton Hall game at D.C. on Saturday and quickly flew to Storrs to work the night game. Tom O’Neill, scheduled to work the game, could not get out of Chicago and O’Connell was called upon. We just pass that along.

“Two unsportsmanlike Class A technical fouls,” referee Mike Stuart told a pool reporter. “The first one was reacting to running down the sideline. The second one was coming on the floor to protest the call.”

Stuart, coincidentally, was on the officiating crew in Milwaukee on Jan. 1, 2013, the night the officials had the teams going the wrong way in OT and took points off the scoreboard.

 

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Montrezl Harrell. Wow. Rick Pitino said he’s worked hard and vastly improved his footwork.

*****

Kevin Ollie’s take

“Our aggressiveness wasn’t there I n the beginning of the game and they figured that out. We settled a lot, with threes. And I thought Ryan Boatright did an excellent job when we got down, starting to go to the rim and not settle. It shows them we’re going to fight, too.

We’ve got to play with emotion. When we got down we started playing a little bit, but we’ve Continue reading

Back in the National Conversation: UConn Breaks In at No. 19 in USA Today/Coaches Poll

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
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Rick Pitino was predicting where AAC teams would be ranked at Media Day in Memphis this week, and perhaps he had some inside info. He predicted his team, Louisville, would be in the top five, Memphis in the top 15, UConn in the top 20, Cincinnati and Temple perhaps on the fringe.

The USA Today/Coaches poll came out Thursday afternoon, and here’s what we have:

Louisville was No. 3, Memphis No. 13 and the Huskies check in at No. 19. That’s all the love the new conference got in the preseason, but three out of 10 teams in the top 20 certainly indicates a strong, if top-heavy league.
The Huskies garnered 167 points. They were unranked at this time a year ago, but broke into the top 25 after beating Michigan State in the opener. They appeared here and there, but were not ranked at the end of their 20-10 season, in which they were ineligible for postseason play.

Now the Huskies are back on the national stage, playing for championships. Though I thought they might start out a little higher, like top 15, there is certainly no lack of respect at being No. 19. As Kevin Ollie, and Shabazz Napier pointed out again and again, the rank is just a number. It’s a jumping off point.

First Night, which will feature the first ever mixed scrimmage with UConn men’s and women’s players. Doors at Gampel open at 6 p.m. and, of course, I will be there along with my esteemed colleague John Altavilla.

The season opens in Brooklyn, against Maryland, on Nov. 8 at 6:30 p.m.
 Kentucky was ranked No. 1, followed by Michigan State, Louisville, Duke and Arizona. The top four teams all got some first-place votes, so there is no clear-cut No. 1 at the moment.

Here is the complete USA Today poll

Rick Pitino: Huskies Will Go As Far As Their ‘Motives’ Take Them …

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino, UConn men's basketball
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NEW YORK – I caught up with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, soon to be a Hall of Famer, at the New York Athletic Club, where he and Geno Auriemma were getting their Winged Foot Awards, and got his thoughts on the new league, UConn, etc.

His Cardinals will be defending their national championship in the AmeriCon next season, but only for one year. The school, which is ACC-bound, was not represented at the league meetings this week.

How will Pitino approach coaching under such unusual circumstances?

“It’s like my life,” he said. “I may have one year to live. I’m writing a book right now, it’s called ‘One Year Contract.’ That’s the way the last three years of my life have been, I’ve got a one year contract. I’m going to enjoy myself, I’m going to coach as if I have one day to live. … That being said, it’s a little awkward.”

 

Pitino’s take on the AAC:

“It’s going to be much better than people anticipate because there are four teams that are going to be in the top 20: Memphis, Connecticut, Louisville – three of the four for sure and Cincinnati in the Top 25 if not the Top 20. And that’s not including Temple, I don’t know how good they’re going to be.

“… It could be a great league, like a very good Conference USA – back in the old days when Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and South Florida were in it. It was a very good league – there were eight tremendous teams in that league.”

On Kevin Ollie:

“I’m a tremendous fan of Kevin as a person, I’ve always been, since he tried out with us [with the Celtics]. Then I became a tremendous fan of the way he coaches. He’s different than Jim [Calhoun], but he has learned from Jim. … I just think he’s got a great way about him, he has got a humility about him … you can’t do what he did in the NBA unless you have tremendous toughness. These kids that are playing for him wish they had his toughness. To get to be Kevin Ollie, you’ve got to be humble and tough like none of these athletes are today.”

With everyone back, including its experienced guards, how good can UConn be next season?

“It all depends on their motives. I had Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, and their motives were to go back to the Final Four and win a championship. They had individual motives to do well themselves, but it was all about Louisville first. If [the Huskies’] motives are to become pros, they’ll just be a good team. If their motives are to bring UConn to a Final Four, then they’ll be a great team. … But [players’] motives – that, you never know. They can BS you and tell you the answers you want. But deep down, if their motives are UConn first, and what we want to accomplish second, then they’ll accomplish both. They’ll go where they want to go as a team and they’ll look much better.”

There’s more from my chats with Pitino and Geno Auriemma here, and in the Thursday Courant.