An adjustment by Pitt coach Jamie Dixon led to one of the most productive offensive halves of the season Wednesday night against South Florida. But don't expect the freelance scheme that produced 38 points after halftime to become a staple for the Panthers.
That much was evident Thursday afternoon when Dixon and senior guard Tray Woodall were asked whether the freelance, or motion, offense might be run for an entire game rather than when set plays are not working.
"Honestly, I think we'll stick with our stuff," Woodall said. "I think [Dixon] saw we were stagnant. I watched the game [Wednesday] night, so I know exactly why he went to our motion offense and let us play basketball. We were all standing around. Guys weren't moving enough. He just wanted us to move around in open areas and get a feel for the game.
"That was a perfect time to do that, and it was successful for us. We'll probably do it again at some point down the line, but it was definitely successful [Wednesday] night."
After watching his team fall behind the last-place Bulls early in the second half, Dixon stopped calling set plays from the bench and told his players to 'play basketball' or 'just play' for the final 16 minutes.
In those final 16 minutes, there was a 22-point turnaround. A two-point deficit turned into a 20-point victory.
The "just-play" mentality was born out of offseason conversations Dixon had with former Pitt coach and longtime NBA assistant Tim Grgurich, now employed as a consultant with the Denver Nuggets. Grgurich was Pitt's coach from 1975-80.
"I've been using that term 'play basketball' or 'just play' " Dixon said. "That was a term [Grgurich] kept using. I've never used it before, but I've been using it a lot this year. It's part of our package anyway, but we went with it permanently with about 16 minutes left in the second half and said this is what we're doing all the way through. I didn't want them thinking about things. We wanted more movement. It flowed a little better. Most importantly, we got more movement."
Whether the Panthers run the motion offense or set plays might be a secondary issue because Dixon said the lesson from the South Florida game was the better ball movement.
The motion initiated better ball movement, but it does not appear Dixon is convinced better ball movement cannot be achieved when he calls set plays.
It worked against South Florida because the Bulls wanted to play a low-scoring, low-possession game. Dixon countered by instructing his players to push the tempo after every defensive stop. If a good shot was not found in transition, the players began to quickly move the ball in the half-court because they were not looking to the bench for set plays.
Dixon hinted that the motion offense could be more of an option when the sets are not working.
It's understandable why Dixon would be hesitant to sell out to using motion all the time. Even though the Panthers have played poorly on offense in some games this season, they remain among the top teams in the country when it comes to offensive efficiency. They ranked No. 13 in NCAA Division I in that statistical category despite some recent average and below-average offensive outings.
It was less than two weeks ago that Pitt managed only 42 points in a home loss to Notre Dame. The 42 points were the second-fewest points the Panthers have scored in a game in Dixon's tenure as head coach.
The offense has looked bad in other games as well. The Panthers shot 37 percent in games against Rutgers and Villanova and 35 percent against Seton Hall. Still, the Panthers won the Seton Hall and Villanova games and only lost at Rutgers by five.
If the Panthers struggle like that again they'll have the option and, more important, the confidence to go to the motion.
"It was different," freshman point guard James Robinson said. "If he does call a play we have the option to break the play off and make the best basketball play. We got into a rhythm. We went out there and had fun."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published March 1, 2013 5:00 AM