Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon got what he wanted Wednesday night. After weeks of preaching to his team about its shortcomings in the rebounding department, the Panthers went out and grabbed a season-high 49 rebounds in the 66-45 victory against Duquesne at Consol Energy Center.
Dixon's teams have been among the best rebounding teams in Division I in seasons past, but the Panthers rank fourth in the Big East Conference this season with a plus-6.9 rebounding margin.
The biggest improvement Wednesday was with freshman center Steve Adams, who had a career-high 14 rebounds. The coaching staff had been working with Adams on a few pointers to help him rebound better.
The first was staying out of foul trouble and remaining on the floor. He did that. He was able to play 28 minutes because he only picked up one foul. They also stressed positioning and using two hands to grab the ball.
"Nothing changed overnight," Dixon said. "He's had some very good rebounding days. He did a good job numbers-wise. I can't explain why all of a sudden he did. As a team, we rebounded better. I think everyone else blocking out was a part of it. It was better, but still not where we need to be."
The next mission is to fix a problem that has plagued the team since the beginning of last season: converting offensive rebounds into points.
The Panthers had 21 offensive rebounds against the Dukes. Adams had nine of them, but he did not convert many of them into baskets.
It might be a matter of perspective. Pitt fans have been spoiled by the finishing ability of previous centers DeJuan Blair and Aaron Gray. Blair shot 56.7 percent for his career and Gray 55 percent.
Adams is shooting 59.5 percent, but that's mostly the result of easy dunks after being set up by teammates. His shooting percentage after grabbing offensive rebounds or posting up are much lower.
"You can go back to Aaron and Chevy [Troutman] and Ontario [Lett], too," Dixon said. "The [fans] weren't spoiled. I just don't think they ever realized. DeJuan got better at it. Let's remember DeJuan wasn't an all-Big East guy going into his sophomore year. He was not a highly ranked guy coming out of high school. It's development and getting better. I think we'll see the same with Steve. Steve is 7 foot. Those guys get ranked higher ... he's doing a great job."
Senior guard Tray Woodall is 9 for 13 from 3-point range in the past two games and is getting closer to 40 percent for the season from behind the arc. He is shooting 39.6 percent after making 5 of 8 attempts against Duquesne.
Woodall said as a younger player he concentrated more on handling the duties of a point guard such as passing and running the offense. His mindset has changed the past two years as the team's needs have changed.
"Consistent hours in the gym," Woodall gave as the reason for his improved numbers. "Now, late in my career, I know I'm going to take a lot more shots. I'm just trying to make sure I'm ready to knock down shots."
The Panthers shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range for a fourth consecutive game. They are shooting 38.4 percent, which is fourth in the Big East.
Pitt leads the Big East in overall field goal shooting at 49.4 percent.
The Panthers have four more games before Big East play gets under way. Players took finals this week and will take more next week. Keeping players focused can be an issue, but Dixon said Thursday that his players have done a good job fighting through the distractions.
"We had a good practice, the intensity was good," Dixon said. "But then some guys had to leave. They weren't there for film or lifting. Those are things that factor in with finals. It's never ideal, but they're here for school first. That's something you have to remember. We work around it. It's not a bad thing."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published December 7, 2012 5:00 AM