Panthers' goal on Saturday: Prove that they've turned the corner

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Pitt men's coach Jamie Dixon said his team turned a corner with its dominating performance Tuesday night at Georgetown. When he addressed his team after practice Thursday, he relayed a story about a team that struggled early last season, found its stride against the Panthers and eventually reached the Final Four.

That team was Louisville, which came to Pitt a year ago with a 2-4 Big East Conference record. After beating the Panthers, the Cardinals won 16 of their next 20 games before losing to Kentucky in a national semifinal.

After a 1-2 start to Big East play, the Panthers (13-3) are looking to generate some positive momentum of their own heading into their home game Saturday against Marquette.

"That game against us was a good turning point for them," Pitt senior Dante Taylor said of Louisville game a year ago. "It definitely can happen to a team. That was a good win for us [at Georgetown], but we just have to do come out and do it the same way against Marquette."

The Panthers have the opportunity to get into the conference race. After playing two ranked opponents in their first three conference games, the Panthers play five consecutive games against teams that are not currently ranked.

The second half is loaded with more difficult games. Pitt's next game against a ranked foe is Jan. 28 at No. 3 Louisville, the first of four-game stretch that also features No. 7 Syracuse and a rematch at No. 20 Cincinnati, which handed the Panthers their first Big East loss Dec. 31 at Petersen Events Center.

The Panthers believe they found their stride against the Hoyas. They played a more aggressive style and gained an understanding of how Dixon would like them to play on offense.

"We definitely got a good win down there on their home court," freshman forward Durand Johnson said. "We have to take advantage now and be ready for Marquette. I definitely feel like it was a turning point for our team.

"We just felt like enough was enough. We had to get back to the way the normal Pitt teams were -- being aggressive, getting after it and stop letting other teams get after us and getting us on our heels."

The Panthers can thank themselves for the somewhat lighter upcoming schedule.

The Big East has an unbalanced schedule, which is dictated in part by television executive hand-picking the matchups they desire.

Some teams have more difficult schedules than others.

After a 5-13 conference record last season, the Panthers were not as much of a television draw as they were in other years after strong finishes.

In 2008-09, Pitt had seven Big East games against ranked opponents. In 2009-10, the Panthers had six such games. Last season they had five, including four in a five-game stretch in January. They lost all but one of those.

In addition to pointing to Louisville as motivation, Dixon has been emphasizing to his players why they were so successful against Georgetown. He said that is the key to building a winning streak.

"We want them to recognize why," Dixon said. "We watch film to show them what they didn't do well, but we wanted to watch film of why they did things well, show the things we have to continue to do and improve on. There are not many wins like that on the road. We have to see how we respond to it on Saturday. Marquette won two close games that speaks to how good they are."

Marquette (11-3) brings a 2-0 Big East record into the game after home victories against Connecticut and Georgetown. The Golden Eagles beat Connecticut in overtime and Georgetown by one point.

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published January 11, 2013 5:00 AM


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