With six days between games, men's coach Jamie Dixon is spending the extra practice time getting his young players feeling more comfortable and confident in his system.
Part of the reason the Panthers have been struggling on defense, Dixon believes, is his starters are being overextended and are not as fresh as they need to be.
Pitt seniors Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson could benefit from more rest. Both played 36 minutes in the 86-78 loss Wednesday to Long Beach State. The top reserve at guard has been Cameron Wright, but he has struggled and Dixon played him only one minute in the second half against Long Beach State. That forced Dixon to turn to freshman John Johnson, who played 10 of the 20 minutes in the second half.
Robinson's backup is freshman Khem Birch, but Dixon only played Birch four minutes. In three games, Birch is averaging fewer than nine minutes per game.
- Game: Pitt vs. La Salle.
- When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
- Where: Petersen Events Center.
- Internet, radio: ESPN3, Panther Sports Radio Network/93.7 The Fan.
Another player who could use some help from the bench is starting small forward Lamar Patterson, who played 33 minutes in the loss. Dixon has chosen not to play sophomore J.J. Moore as much as he did at this time last year when Moore was a freshman and averaging double-figure minutes every game in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
"Minutes is part of it," Dixon said. "The minutes that we're playing guys is part of it. We have to get the younger guys going. That will help. That's something we have to do a better job of."
After the loss to Long Beach State, seniors Gibbs and Robinson said they have to do a better job of leading the team. Gibbs intimated the Panthers had been too casual in their preparation the first couple of weeks of the season.
"It starts in shoot-around and practice, so we have to play hard in practice and can't be playing around in shoot-around," Gibbs said. "We just have to focus and that's what it really comes down to. We have to play every game like it's our last and that's what we're going to do. As seniors, we have to step up and be better leaders. We have to take this as a learning experience."
Gibbs was the only established 3-point threat heading into the season for the Panthers. After three games, it appears upcoming opponents are going to have to guard some other Panthers on the perimeter a little more closely.
Four players are shooting better than 43 percent from 3-point range. Junior point guard Tray Woodall is shooting 57 percent (12 for 21). Johnson is shooting 50 percent (3 for 6), Patterson 45 percent (5 for 11) and Gibbs 43 percent (13 for 30).
With that quartet shooting well, it all adds up to the Panthers leading the Big East Conference in 3-point shooting percentage at 44.7. That's a positive development for Dixon because Woodall and Patterson struggled with their shooting last season.
Woodall entered the season as a 27 percent 3-point shooter for his career and Patterson was at 28 percent.
Patterson has been doing more than shooting well. He and Moore had been battling for the starting small forward position throughout the fall, with Moore earning the starting spot in the two exhibition games. But it has been Patterson who has emerged as one of the top players on the team in the early going.
Patterson is fourth on the team in scoring (8.7 ppg), first in rebounds (6.7 rpg) and second in assists (5.0 apg). He leads the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio. He only has two turnovers in the first three games.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230.