Pitt's surge ended at four by Louisville, 64-61

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Pitt did not play well at any point in its game Monday night against Louisville. Any of the 22,411 inside the KFC Yum! Center and the thousands watching on national television realized that. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon merely confirmed it afterward.

The reason the Panthers were in a one possession game with less than a minute remaining was their ability to make a few 3-pointers down the stretch. When they finally trimmed the lead to three and got a defensive stop with 43 seconds remaining they missed the easiest shot possible -- a free throw on the front end of a one-and-one.

That miss doomed the Panthers and allowed the No. 12 Cardinals to halt Pitt's four-game winning streak with a 64-61 Big East Conference victory.

Tray Woodall led the Panthers (17-5, 5-4) with 14 points, but he missed the free throw that could have put more pressure on a Louisville team that was wounded after losing its previous three games and was missing a starter due to injury.

Woodall wasn't alone in his misery at the line, though. Misery loves company, and his teammates blew several chances at other stages in the game to make it more competitive by going 3 for 12 from the free-throw line.

"We just have to focus more, man," Woodall said. "We just have concentrate more on making free throws. We're getting better at free throws, but [Monday night] wasn't an indication of that."

Pitt entered the game 13th among 15 teams in the Big East in free-throw shooting percentage at.648. At one point in the second half, the Panthers were 1 for 8 from the line. Freshman center Steven Adams was 0 for 4 and Trey Zeigler 1 for 4.

"We didn't play well at any point in the game," Dixon said. "We hit some shots. We were down six at halftime and played very poorly. We didn't make some free throws. Give them credit. They made theirs."

Louisville was 13 for 17 from the line and 6 for 6 in the final 24 seconds.

While the substandard foul shooting was certainly part of the reason for the loss it surely was not the only reason. The Panthers, as Dixon noted, struggled in several other facets of the game. They turned the ball over 15 times, including 11 in the first half when Louisville built a 12-point lead. They allowed the Cardinals to grab 15 offensive rebounds, and they missed defensive assignments several times that led to easy dunks and layups.

"We were indecisive of who was supposed to guard the big guy, so we wound up having a guard and a big man guard him and they were overloading one side," Woodall explained. "We had no one guarding the back side. The adjustment had to be the guard guarding the big guy, and we needed a big guy in the back, but we didn't make that adjustment.

"Coach was trying to explain it to us, but some guys weren't really understanding. We just have to do a better job of executing defensively and getting into position."

Those mistakes came because the Panthers had to fall into a zone due to some foul trouble and their inability to stop the Louisville guards from penetrating. The Cardinals shot 45 percent from the field, with most of their damage coming inside. They made only 5 of their 18 3-point attempts.

"I thought our zone would be more effective, but it wasn't," Dixon said. "They shot 45 percent but a lot of those were transition. Our defense wasn't where needed to be, our offense wasn't where we needed it to be but we lost by three. If we make a couple of free throws we might feel differently about it."

Dixon said the problems with the zone weren't so much a lack of communication as they were a lack of execution.

"Give them credit," Dixon said. "We knew they'd do that. We saw it against Syracuse. We just didn't get to the spots we needed to get to. It's my fault not to get it across to our guys."

Despite their poor execution, the Panthers were able to battle and cut the deficit to three on three occasions in the final six minutes. On the first two occasions, Louisville got easy shots and converted them into points.

After James Robinson made a 3-pointer with six minutes remaining to make it 51-48, Chane Behanan got free underneath for one of those wide-open layups when miscommunication failed the Panthers.

Then, after Cameron Wright made a basket at the other end to make it 53-50 with 4:53 left, Louisville guard Russ Smith was left unattended at the 3-point line. Smith drilled his third 3-pointer of the contest and gave the Cardinals some much-needed breathing room.

"We needed to get over the hump there, and obviously we didn't do it," junior forward Lamar Patterson said. "We were just giving up too many easy points."

NOTES -- Patterson was the only other Pitt player in double figures. ... The Panthers were 8 for 18 from 3-point range and made four in the final six minutes. ... Pitt had the edge in rebounds, 35-33. ... Pitt's next game is noon Saturday against Syracuse at Petersen Events Center.

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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