Even though Western lost last night, the praise on the season is still coming in, this time from Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.
As you know, the Toppers beat the then-No. 3 Cardinals earlier this season, a win that at the time was considered the biggest upset of the season. Louisville ended the season ranked No.1 in the nation and are currently the No.1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Today, after the Cardinals escaped with a 79-71 victory over No.9-seed Siena in Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, a question was posed to Pitino about his team, then and now. Credit to Herald sports editor Andrew Robinson for finding this and shooting this in an e-mail to me (as I sit in my hotel room in Portland — all the flights are booked for the day and we have to leave tomorrow morning). Here’s how the transcript says it went down:
Q. Can you just talk about how your team has kind of evolved from some of those early-season losses to Western Kentucky, to UNLV, to the run you made to becoming No. 1 in the country? How did that evolve?
COACH PITINO: Well, you know what happens. I think as I look back on my pro experience, people always ask me what you got out of it. I got so much out of the Boston Celtics experience. It didn’t go well for me, but I learned so much from it. I learned so much about failure, adversity, patience, discipline, and so many things from the people I met. And with that, you know, there were some nights we just got blown out. You hang your head, you do this.
And we just never did that. All we tried to do was, I said, “Guys, Western Kentucky beat us, they deserve the credit. Don’t be hanging your heads. They beat us.” And now as we look back on it, Western Kentucky, Minnesota, Las Vegas, they’re pretty good basketball teams. We didn’t lose to any bad basketball teams. Everybody said early on we schedule really tough and that prepared us for the Big East.
So as I’m watching Western Kentucky play against — last night against Gonzaga, I didn’t feel bad at all. But we didn’t feel bad back then. Everybody’s saying, “how did you lose to Western Kentucky?” I think the Louisville guys right now feel kind of silly questioning how we lost to them. They’re damn good basketball team.
I think what it taught me, all that adversity, is just don’t panic. Relax. Stand up and say the other team was better. So many times we just make excuses and go off and say we didn’t do this, we didn’t do that. There’s a reason we didn’t do this and we didn’t do that. They made us that way. Western Kentucky made us that way.
So we just never panicked. We never bought into any failure at all. We just stayed patient, stayed with our game plan. Now, it did surprise me because I thought it would be — last year it took three losses to win the Big East. This year I thought it would be four to five.”