Sports

Sweet 16 notes: Pitino says his focus is all on Louisville

INDIANAPOLIS — Jobs are slowly but surely opening at college basketball programs across the country. And whenever that happens, you can expect to find Rick Pitino's name popping up on fans' wish lists all over Internet message boards.

Pitino's name has already been tossed out there for the opening at Arizona and for a potential opening at Kentucky, who's expected to announce the fate of Billy Gillispie on Friday.

A reporter at Thursday's news conference asked Pitino about the Arizona rumors and if he was interested in the Arizona job and he initially replied, "I'm glad I'm not living on the West Coast because I don't hear that. I hear more about Boston U. (where Pitino coached from 1979-83) wanting me back. I hope they settle for my son (Richard)."

When another reporter pointed out that Pitino didn't answer the question and asked him to follow up, he said he wouldn't answer any question about any other job because "it would be disrespectful to the University of Louisville."

"You know, any time you hear a player stand up here and say, 'I'm not going pro; I'm coming back,' he's gone," Pitino said. "Any time a coach says he's not interested in a job, he's dead interested in a job.

"All I can tell you is for eight years I've given every ounce I've had to the University of Louisville. I will continue to do that. Anybody today can go on a message board. Anybody today can put anything out there they want — truth or untruth. I've heard it about Kentucky and Billy G. All I can tell you is that I've lived and died with Louisville for eight years."

Pitino said the only other job he's ever considered during his Louisville tenure was Providence College, who hired Keno Davis last year. Pitino coached Providence from 1985-87, leading the Friars to the Final Four in 1987.

"Because of the personal things I went through at Providence, I wanted to sit down and talk with them about the job to see if I did want to come back because of personal reasons that were very deep to me," Pitino said. "I sat down with them, talked to them a bit, and realized Louisville was the place for me. Outside of that, for eight years, I haven't thought about any job except the University of Louisville, and that's answering you the honest way."

Cards not obsessed with free-throw woes

Louisville enters the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals with the worst free-throw percentage among the Sweet 16 teams (.638). They were just 6-for-13 in a 79-72 second-round win over Siena. Pitino acknowledged that poor free-throw shooting probably cost Memphis a national title last year, and it might have cost Pitino in 1997, when Kentucky missed several key free throws in an overtime loss to Arizona. But Pitino said he's holding faith that his team will rise to the occasion in pressure situations.

"Well, it is a weakness of ours," Pitino said. "We work very hard at improving it. It hasn't been a factor yet. It was a factor down the stretch for Memphis. It could be for us. We're going to have to stand up and make them, certainly, when it happens.

"It happens to everybody. It is a weakness you must overcome. That doesn't mean we can't make it in the stretch. Statistics don't always hold true in that area."

Self on Gillispie

Kansas will take on Michigan State in the other semifinal matchup, and Kansas Coach Bill Self was asked about his former assistant Billy Gillispie, who is under fire at Kentucky.

"I don't think it's fair," he said. " Nobody cares what I think. You've had a lot of coaches out there that struggled in their first few years on a job. One of them resides in Durham, North Carolina. Ten Final Fours and three national championships later, they're probably glad they didn't move on that. I think Billy is the same way. Given time, he'll have Kentucky competing for championships again.

"But obviously, in today's time, patience is not one of our society's virtues. It's win and win now. Sometimes I think you've got to step back and think big-picture, what would be best over time. There's no doubt in my mind they've got the right guy at the helm. But he's going to need a little bit of time."

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