Gibbs delivers calculated message to teammates about postseason

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Sometimes the quietest person in the room speaks up and the words have more meaning.

Ashton Gibbs is Pitt's leading scorer and one of the team's most experienced players but he has never been one to assert himself vocally in the locker room or at a postgame news conference.

Gibbs has been a tremendous leader for coach Jamie Dixon because his teammates see his exhaustive work habits and his attention to detail. Dixon has said he is the hardest-working player he has coached.

But when it came to being vocal, Gibbs let others do the talking -- until Thursday.

That's when Gibbs stepped out of his comfort zone after Pitt's disheartening loss to Connecticut in the Big East Conference quarterfinals last week and said:

"I think we're going to make this run in the NCAA tournament and bring it back to the city of Pittsburgh. We're going to get to the Final Four this year. It's motivation to get that Final Four. It's something we're going to do. I'm just telling you, that's what we're going to do this year. We're going to get to the Final Four."

Gibbs' teammates have taken notice and been emboldened by his words.

"That's honestly not in his character to come out and say stuff like that," said sophomore guard Travon Woodall. "When someone comes out and says that, you just have to follow behind him.

"I'm backing him up 100 percent. We're all going to go out there and play hard and have the same mindset that he has."

Gibbs has only been at Pitt since 2008, but he knows the Panthers' NCAA tournament history well. He knows the Panthers have not reached the Final Four since 1941. That they have just two appearances in the Elite Eight. That they have fallen short as a high seed for years when they had been set up for deep NCAA tournament runs.

This year, Pitt is a No. 1 seed for the second time in school history. The Panthers were a No. 1 seed two years ago when they suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight. Gibbs was a freshman on that team and played as a reserve. He does not want to come up short again, and his calculated words last week were designed to send a message to his teammates.

"It was me speaking my mind and getting my teammates' attention as well," Gibbs said. "It's just something I really feel. We can definitely do it. If we don't do it, it's going to be a really, really big disappointment for us. This will be a good year if we get the Final Four and become a national champion."

Pitt's seniors applauded Gibbs for stepping into some new territory as a vocal leader.

"That's definitely stepping up and being a leader," senior center Gary McGhee said. "Everyone felt the same way coming off that game. We were saddened by it. It was a tough loss for us, but there's still a light at the end of the tunnel. We're looking forward to the tournament, performing well and bringing back the first Final Four since 1941 and national championship."

The Panthers know these opportunities don't come around every year and they are looking to take advantage of being a top seed. Brad Wanamaker said the Panthers have to learn a lesson from the Connecticut game. He said the Huskies showed more heart and desire, and that was the reason they went on to capture the Big East tournament title after beating the Panthers.

In order to win a national championship, Wanamaker said, the Panthers have to rediscover the same type of hunger. The Panthers don't have much time. They play their first game at 3:10 p.m. Thursday at the Verizon Center in Washington against the winner of tonight's first-round game between UNC Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock.

"Yeah, we still think we can get there," Wanamaker said. "After we saw we were the No. 1 seed, we all got together and told everyone, 'This is it.' We have to get in our grind, get hungrier and play with that passion that UConn had if we want to be successful in the tournament."


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