Pitt's Woodall returns to make his point

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At the height of his prolonged slump that stretched from weeks to months, redshirt freshman Travon Woodall averaged more turnovers than assists. That is a brow-raising statistic for a point guard, and it led to coach Jamie Dixon slashing Woodall's minutes into the single digits and giving him the quick hook in many games.

It was a deep plunge for Woodall, who had started the first 11 games of the season with his sights set on being Pitt's next great point guard.

After averaging almost 28 minutes per game as a starter, Woodall found himself pressing to make the most of his limited minutes after losing his starting position when Jermaine Dixon returned to the lineup after his foot injury healed.

Woodall's slump started as soon as he became a bench player. In his first game as a reserve, Woodall committed four turnovers against Ohio University. The next eight games he had 16 turnovers and 15 assists.

In a Jan. 16 game against Louisville, Woodall had three turnovers in 10 minutes.

A little more than a week later in a game at Seton Hall, Woodall had two turnovers in six minutes. That performance led to an embarrassing exit in front of his friends and family at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., a short distance from where Woodall played his high school basketball in Jersey City.

In the weeks that followed, Woodall and Jamie Dixon had many closed-door one-on-one meetings when they discussed his role on the team.

For Dixon, it was as much about rebuilding Woodall's confidence as much as it was correcting the flaws in his game.

"We've had a lot of sit-downs, a lot of talks," Dixon said. "We got together for about an hour the other day. One time, he mentioned that he thought he had to make a play to stay in the game. I said just let things come to you."

The long talks might have finally paid off.

Woodall was one of the biggest reasons Pitt was able to topple West Virginia in triple overtime Friday night. He scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists with no turnovers in 31 minutes.

Woodall had an expanded role because Jermaine Dixon fouled out in regulation, forcing Woodall to play all of the first and second overtime periods. He fouled out with 3:42 remaining in the third overtime.

Woodall was at the center of Pitt's comeback.

He scored four points in the final minute of regulation to help force overtime. In the second overtime, he made two free throws with 28 seconds remaining to give Pitt a three-point lead.

"It was definitely a confidence booster," Woodall said. "Early on in the season I played with great confidence. As the season went on my confidence started to go away. But my teammates kept me into it, and they helped get my confidence back up in practice. Now I just give it all I got."

Dixon said he thought Woodall's performance against West Virginia was just the sort of experience Woodall needed to get back on track.

"He played very well," Dixon said. "He made solid decisions. He made the simple pass and the simple play. If he sees the results I hope that is where the development will occur.

"It wasn't anything flashy. He didn't make any spectacular plays. He didn't force anything. He just let things come to him. It's really that. That's the most important thing."

If Woodall can continue to play well it will allow Dixon to reward him with more minutes. That means Dixon could afford to rest Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon more as well as giving Gibbs more of an opportunity to play shooting guard, where he said he is more comfortable.

Woodall's teammates took notice of his performance against the Mountaineers.

"He's a creator and he's a playmaker," Gibbs said. "He knocked down some big shots and also created some big shots. I think he was really the key to the game. And the best is yet to come."

Jamie Dixon believes Woodall can help bring the team to another level if he plays well down the stretch.

"He's a freshman," Dixon said. "I think we forget those things.

"We want so much out of our young guys. But the reality is most good teams aren't playing young guys. [On Friday] he played like a veteran. I've been on him. I've been pushing him and pushing him. I really believe he can be a big part of our improvement."

NOTE -- Pitt moved up to No. 19 in The Associated Press poll. The Panthers were No. 25 last week.

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230. First Published February 16, 2010 5:00 AM


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