Louisville did a fine job of making things difficult Saturday for Pitt's leading scorer. The Cardinals blanketed Ashton Gibbs and forced him into an uncharacteristic 4-for-12 shooting performance.
The Cardinals also did a fine job on Pitt's third-leading scorer. Gilbert Brown did not score a point.
But where the Louisville game plan deteriorated was in its outright neglect of Pitt's forgotten fifth starter, Nasir Robinson. The Cardinals paid little attention to Pitt's starting power forward, and Robinson made them pay by scoring a career-high 26 points in Pitt's 82-77 victory.
"We tried to stop other people," Louisville coach Rick Pitino admitted after the game. "He showed he's a quality basketball player and took us off the dribble."
Robinson was 11 for 14 from the field and pulled down 11 rebounds in 42 minutes against the Cardinals. In a game when Pitt's big stars were misfiring, Robinson picked up the slack.
• Game: Pitt (15-2, 5-0 Big East) vs. Georgetown (13-3, 4-2).
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
• Where: Petersen Events Center.
• TV: ESPNU.
"Once I got my first basket, I came out and I felt like I was in a groove," Robinson said. "I kept it going and played hard.."
Robinson used his quickness to drive against the Louisville zone and he pounded the glass, grabbing four offensive rebounds. Pitt had 27 second-chance points and outrebounded the Cardinals by 14. Robinson was a big part of that effort.
"When Nas is doing stuff like that it's hard to beat us because that's another guy you have to worry about," senior guard Jermaine Dixon said.
For much of this season Pitt's opponents haven't had to worry much about Robinson, who was averaging a modest 6.6 points per game before Saturday.
A 6-foot-5 sophomore from Chester, Pa., Robinson had never scored more than 15 points in a game at Pitt. He had made more than one basket in only one of his previous four games and had scored 27 points combined in his previous six games.
Robinson has struggled with turnovers and poor decision-making this season, his first as a starter, but he came through with the best game of his career against the Cardinals.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon almost got choked up when he was asked about Robinson after the game.
"I love that kid," Dixon said. "When we recruited him I remember watching him. ... You can find things wrong with him, but he plays so hard that my belief was if you play that hard and you care that much you'll become a good player. He's a perfect example of that.
"He brings so much energy. He is so positive and works so hard. He's finding his role. He's such a good kid. I'm proud of him. It was good to see."
Robinson entered the Louisville game as Pitt's worst free-throw shooter. He was making only 30 percent of his attempts from the line (9 for 30) and had missed 13 in a row.
The previous free throw Robinson made was against Duquesne Dec. 2. But against Louisville, Robinson was 4 for 6 from the line. One of those came with 33 seconds remaining in regulation and got Pitt to within four points.
"I just went up there and concentrated," Robinson said. "I tried not to think about the past."
Jamie Dixon said Robinson personifies this team's work ethic.
"The strength of this team is they want to get better," Dixon said. "They're willing to be coached. They understand they're not as good as they can be. That's a talent. That's a gift. Some guys think they're good enough and can't get better.
"Our guys are working on their weaknesses. Nasir is in there working on his free throws over and over again. Then you see him hit four out of six. And they were big free throws. That's the strength of this team."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com . First Published January 18, 2010 5:00 AM