Matt Freed, Post-Gazette photos
From left, Pitt's Tyrell Biggs, Levon Kendall, Keith Benjamin and Mike Cook sit on the bench in the final minutes of the Panthers' 66-53 loss to Louisville last night at the Petersen Events Center.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino left no stone unturned in his preparation for last night's game against Pitt. Most coaches watch the previous two or three games on videotape to scout the next opponent, but Pitino and his staff watched every game Pitt played, poring over more than 1,000 minutes of action in the first 25 games.
One game in particular would be of special interest to the Cardinals.
"We noticed that Marquette's athleticism got to them with their press, and they pressed the whole game," Louisville sophomore Terrence Williams said. "We knew we could have success if we pressed Pitt."
Success, yes. But how about downright dominance? Louisville pressured Pitt into a season-high 19 turnovers and blindsided the Panthers, 66-53, before 12,065 at the Petersen Events Center.
It was the worst home loss for Pitt in more than six years, and only a meaningless Mike Cook 3-pointer as the final seconds ticked off the clock prevented the worst loss of the Jamie Dixon era.
It was only the third time in 124 games under Dixon that Pitt was beaten by double digits.
"Obviously, we're disappointed with the loss," Dixon said afterward. "It's not a good feeling right now."
But blaming this loss solely on Louisville's press and quickness would do a disservice to Pitt's total disregard for interior (or was it inferior?) defense and Louisville's confounding zone defense that made the best 3-point shooting team in the Big East look quite ordinary.
Pitt had its worst shooting night of the season. The Panthers were 3 for 21 from 3-point range and did not make their first shot from behind the arc until 6:54 remained in the game. They missed their first 15 3-pointers.
"I don't think it confused us," said Pitt center Aaron Gray, the only Pitt player who gave a postgame interview. "We just didn't do what we needed to do offensively. It was just a bad day. We'd rather have it happen now than down the road. The true test will be how we respond to this."
Shooting comes and goes, though, and Dixon knows that. What has to be more of a concern this morning is the way Louisville's frontline shredded his defense. The Cardinals shot 48 percent from the field and had an easy time scoring against Pitt centers Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall, getting 42 points in the paint.
Louisville center David Padgett was 7 for 13 from the field and scored a game-high 16 points. Starting forwards Juan Palacios and Terrence Williams added nine and eight points and backup center Derrick Caracter contributed eight points.
"It's something we have to work on," Gray. "[Padgett] played very well. He's a very good player. He came to play tonight. There are a lot of things we feel like we have to work on. How we played tonight is not indicative of this team. Maybe this was something we needed to show us how good we aren't."
Gray led Pitt with 12 points and 10 rebounds, but he had no help from his normally reliable stable of shooting guards. Ronald Ramon and Antonio Graves each were 1 for 6 from behind the 3-point arc. Levance Fields was 0 for 5.
"I didn't think we were aggressive enough in the first half," Dixon said. "That was the biggest thing. You have to be aggressive and patient at the same time."
Pitt did not do much of anything right in the first half. The Panthers had 16 turnovers by halftime. That's more than the Panthers had in 16 of their first 25 games.
The Panthers actually were lucky. Louisville converted only eight points from those turnovers.
Not that Louisville wasn't efficient on offense. The Cardinals were 15 for 35 from the field and scored 22 points in the lane compared to just four for the stunned Panthers.
Pitt, meanwhile, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. The Panthers were 5 for 21 from the field and 0 for 9 from 3-point range.
"I didn't recognize the team that was out there in the first half," Dixon said.
When Jerry Smith nailed a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:29 remaining after yet another Pitt turnover Louisville led, 33-14. That represented Pitt's largest deficit of the season and of the Dixon era.
The second half was not much better. The sellout crowd got semi-excited when Pitt cut the lead to 11 in the opening moments after the intermission, but a sustained run and comeback would be predicated on defense, and Louisville was executing too well on offense for that to happen.
Louisville shot 58 percent in the second half and never allowed the deficit to get to double digits.
"We just played great tonight," Pitino said. "This is a great win on the road. We've executed defensively like at times, but not offensively. That's the best we looked."
Referee Tim Higgins gives the Oakland Zoo the deaf ear as they complain near the end of the game against Louisville last night at the Petersen Events Center.
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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon yells to a referee as his team trails Louisville last night in the second half.
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Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1230.