Panthers backcourt has Wright stuff in early going

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One week ago, Jamie Dixon's game plan was unraveling against Detroit. Titans guard and NBA prospect Ray McCallum was torching Pitt's defense.

The talented point guard was getting wide open shots and knocking them down with uncommon regularity against a team that prides itself on defending. McCallum had 17 points at halftime and Detroit led, 37-29.

For his halftime adjustment, Dixon looked to his bench and got a big lift from one of his dependable reserves.

Cameron Wright, who averages just 13.5 minutes per game, received the assignment of guarding McCallum, and his shut-down defense turned the game in Pitt's favor. McCallum did not score for the first 9:41 of the second half, and the Panthers came back for a 74-61 victory.

"I try to bring energy," Wright said after practice Thursday afternoon. "If that's my role this year, then I'm definitely going to play my role. We can all depend on each other. Every player coach Dixon puts out there on the floor, he has faith in all of us."

Dixon has gained more confidence in Wright since last season when he was a wide-eyed freshman getting his first taste of college basketball.

Wright was forced into duty when Tray Woodall was injured early last season. Wright started eight consecutive games, but the results were not favorable for the team, or for Wright.

The Panthers were 5-3 in those games, and he was replaced by John Johnson and then Isaiah Epps in the starting lineup until Woodall returned. For the season, Wright averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Pitt (8-1) vs. North Florida (3-5), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
  • TV, Radio, Internet: Pitt Panthers Television (Comcast channels 188 or 210), KDKA-FM (93.7),
  • Pitt: Defeated Duquesne, 66-45, for fourth consecutive victory. ... Senior G Tray Woodall (14.1 ppg, 5.1 apg) is 9 for 13 from 3-point range in the past two games. ... Junior F Talib Zanna (12.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is shooting a team-best 64.8 percent from the field. ... Allowing 54.7 points per game. ... Has not allowed more than 67 points in a game this season.
  • North Florida: Coming off 87-59 loss at No. 21 Minnesota. ... Also lost to Kansas State, Florida State and Savannah State. ... Victories came against Edward Waters, Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M. ... Senior G Parker Smith (17.8 ppg) is North Florida's all-time 3-point shooter and ranks second in the Division I this season in 3-pointers per game with 4.1. ... Pittsburgh native and former Northgate High School coach Matt Driscoll is in his fourth season as head coach of the Ospreys.
  • Hidden stat: North Florida is 0-5 all time against teams from the Big East.

This season, in addition to his strong defense, Wright is contributing much more on offense. Despite playing the second-fewest minutes on the team, he is averaging 4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

Dixon said Wright is in position to earn more minutes, too.

"He's a good piece in what we're trying to do," Dixon said. "He's getting better. I told him after [the Detroit game] that I'm gaining more and more confidence in him. He's really playing with more confidence right now."

Wright can play shooting guard and small forward and is the type of versatile player Dixon likes to have in his arsenal. He can play in Pitt's up-tempo transition offense when opportunities arise, and his shooting stroke has improved greatly since last season.

Wright shot just 35 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3-point range last season. He is shooting 46 percent this season and has made 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

"I definitely grew offensively, but I guess you kind of gain confidence from defense," he said. "You play so hard with your teammates for 35 seconds, or maybe longer if they get an offensive rebound, and once you get back on the offensive end you have to connect. I've definitely gained more confidence in my game. I put a lot of time and effort into my game throughout the summer and the course of the season. Every basketball player has to have that sense of confidence. In the flow of the game, if I have the opportunity to shoot, I'll take the shot."

While Wright is flourishing on the court, he is dealing with a personal loss. His father, Kevin, died Nov. 9, on the morning of Pitt's regular-season opener against Mount St. Mary's. Kevin Wright was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after moving to Pittsburgh with Cameron during his freshman season in 2010-11.

Wright credits his teammates for helping to keep his spirits up during his difficult time. The Panthers traveled to Cleveland, Wright's hometown, for his father's funeral Nov. 16. The next day, Wright was back on the bench for Pitt's overtime victory against Oakland.

"The same support I get from my family is the support I get from my teammates," Wright said. "That's why I always mention them as my brothers. And I guess if they're my brothers, the coaches are like my uncles. It's family unity, one bond. For sure, they're definitely like my family."

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Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published December 8, 2012 5:00 AM


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