Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon watches as his team practices.
Pitt's Gilbert Brown dunks the ball as his team practices.
Pitt's Gary McGhee, left, plays with a ball during practice.
Oakland's Keith Benson practices.
Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs shoots free throws as his team practices for their first round game against Oakland in the NCAA tournament at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, WI. Thursday.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon watches as his team practices.
Oakland head coach Greg Kampe.
Pitt's Gary McGhee dunks the ball as his team practices.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Ashton Gibbs likely is sick of hearing it from his teammates. They were in his ear the moment they could look at the box score after the loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament, and it has continued for seven days.
The chorus has been loud and repetitive: "Shoot!"
Gibbs, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, took four shots and scored four points in that 50-45 loss against Notre Dame. It's a delicate balance for someone who is the team's point guard as well as its leading scorer, but, in the week leading up to the NCAA first-round game today against Oakland, the Panthers have been pleading with Gibbs to let them fly.
"In the Notre Dame game, he only took four shots. I couldn't believe that," junior center Gary McGhee said. "After the game, I asked him what happened. I told him, 'You have to take some of those shots. Sometimes you might have to force a couple. Just get some looks.' We need him to score. He's our leading scorer, so he has to score."
• Game: No. 3 seed Pitt (24-8) vs. No. 14 seed Oakland (26-8), approximately 2:55 p.m. today, Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis., in NCAA West Region first round.
• Pitt: Playing in the NCAA tournament for ninth year in a row. ... Owns a 21-22 record in NCAA play. ... Is 12-5 in NCAA first round. ... Led by Ashton Gibbs (15.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg), Brad Wanamaker (12.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Jermaine Dixon (10.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg).
• Oakland: Making second NCAA appearance. ... 1-1 in NCAA. ... On school-record 11-game win streak and has won 20 of past 21 overall. ... 22-0 when leading at halftime. ... Set school record with 10 road wins. ... Led by Summit League player of the year Keith Benson (17.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Derick Nelson (12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Johnathon Jones (12.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg).
• Hidden stat: Pitt is a No. 3 seed for the fifth time. The Panthers reached the Sweet 16 as No. 3 seed in 2002, '04 and '07, but were knocked out in second round in 1987.
The Notre Dame contest was not the only one late in the season when Gibbs had trouble getting open. He only took six shots against Rutgers and seven against St. John's.
In the first 25 games, Gibbs led Pitt in shot attempts 18 times. In the final seven, he led the team in shots once.
"In the last couple of games, there were a lot of shots that Ashton could have taken," junior forward Gilbert Brown said. "He had kick-outs, and he shot-faked or tried to dribble and create for his jump shot. Sometimes, it's easier for him just to catch and shoot. Even if he's not making his shots then we'll have a chance at an offensive rebound. It's those kick-out plays where Ashton just has to let it go and shoot the ball."
Instead of Gibbs taking shots down the stretch, it has been a host of other players who are not nearly as accomplished as shooters as Gibbs.
Jermaine Dixon has led the team in shot attempts in five of the past seven games. The problem is Dixon is shooting just 21.9 percent from 3-point range while Gibbs is shooting 40.2 percent from there.
"It's definitely hard to run the team and be the go-to guy," Jermaine Dixon said. "But we run a lot of sets for Ash to get him shots. We told him he needs to take some shots. If he's open, he needs to take some shots. If he's open, he has to do a better job of that.
"Ashton is playing so well without the ball now that he's getting chances for open looks. He just has to take the shot. We want him to take the shot."
Gibbs has received the message loud and clear. At one point during the season, the Panthers could count on Gibbs for a 20-point game about every other time the Panthers played. He has scored 20 points or more 11 times this season, but he has done it once in the past five.
"I passed up a couple of shots [against Notre Dame]," Gibbs said.
"My teammates did a good job of finding me, and I didn't take advantage. That's something I can't do. My teammates rely on me to shoot the ball from the outside. It's a learning experience. You live and you learn."
Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight was once in Gibbs' position. He was Pitt's point guard and was counted on to produce scoring, so he knows what Gibbs is going through.
But Knight does not want Gibbs to stop playing within the team framework.
"We would like for him to get more shots, but, in that [Notre Dame] game, there weren't many opportunities for either team," Knight said.
"He normally gets shots in the flow of the game. He could have forced some, but he has to make every possession count when a team is slowing the game down like Notre Dame was.
"I don't think we'll see anything like that in this tournament. He'll be ready to go. He'll get more opportunities, and he'll get more shots."
It might not get any easier for Gibbs to get shots today.
Oakland point guard Johnathon Jones is known as a top-flight defender who held Kansas guard Sherron Collins to nine points when the Golden Grizzlies played the Jayhawks earlier in the season. Oakland coach Greg Kampe also cited his defense against former Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel when Oakland played Michigan State a few years ago.
"I'll say this, and then he'll get 30, but we've got a guy I think can guard him," Kampe said. "The year Neitzel was their whole team we lost to them, 74-71, and Neitzel only got nine shots in the game.
"So we've got a guy we think can guard that. Now, us thinking it and him doing it are two different things. We'll see what happens, but we do feel good about the matchup that we have someone who can hang with him."