Pitt returns to 'boot camp'

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The hallmark of Pitt's program in the Jamie Dixon era has been the ability to outwork opponents combined with superior defense and rebounding.

In a 68-53 Big East Conference loss Wednesday at Notre Dame, the Panthers were outrebounded and didn't play good defense by almost any measure. And it seemed as if the Irish got every loose ball and made more hustle plays than the Panthers, as well.

"We didn't play good defense, we didn't play average defense, we played bad defense tonight," said Pitt senior Jermaine Dixon. "They outworked us, and that definitely hurt us. They just wanted it more than we did."

But don't expect a repeat of that lack of effort Saturday from Pitt (21-7, 10-5) against host St. John's (15-12, 5-10). Such a performance usually means extremely hard practices, working on rebounding and defense and a renewed commitment to what has helped Pitt become one of the most consistent programs in the Big East.

Some teams might dread having to go through a few tough practices, but not the Panthers. In fact, they were looking forward to it.

"We call it boot camp," said center Gary McGhee. "Anytime we have a bad game or even a bad practice, we know the next day is going to be boot camp, but that is what we are all looking forward to. We know we need it and we just look forward to it."

Dixon, who has been the Panthers' lock-down defender, said the disappointing aspect about the team's inability to stop the Irish, particularly from the perimeter, was that the players knew what they needed to do. He said the players' effort in games is usually a result of how they practice, and it showed against Notre Dame.

"Our practice [Tuesday] was not good at all. It was pretty bad, to be honest, and the way we played showed it," Dixon said. "But I promise you, we'll get after it. Coach Dixon will make sure we get after it and we'll be ready to play against St. John's."

Notre Dame, particularly without standout power forward Luke Harangody (knee), has to shoot a lot of 3-pointers to compensate for a lack of ability to score consistently in the frontcourt. The Irish also try and shorten games with longer possessions, meaning defensive rebounding was at a premium for Pitt, as well.

Yet, despite Pitt's knowledge of that, the Irish shot 10 for 18 (56 percent) from 3-point range. They began the game, and blew it open, by making 10 of their first 14 3-point attempts. They shot 50 percent from the floor overall and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, which led to 14 second-chance points.

Contrast that to the way the Panthers locked down Villanova Sunday in a 70-65 win against the Wildcats: Villanova made only 6 of 14 3-point attempts (43 percent) and the Wildcats shot only 45 percent (24 of 53) from the floor. Pitt outrebounded them by three.

McGhee was asked, other than effort, what the difference was between the two games, and he said that it was a combination of mistakes and, in some cases, just flat-out laziness.

"We had some mental lapses [against Notre Dame], and all the things we did well [defensively] in our last game, we didn't do [Wednesday]," McGhee said. "It was a mixture of a lot of things. We need to get back out after it and get ready for St. John's."

NOTE -- Because of the large amount of snow New York City was getting, the Panthers traveled by bus Thursday afternoon for their Saturday game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden. The team had been scheduled to fly commercially this afternoon.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720. First Published February 26, 2010 5:00 AM


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