Junior point guard Tray Woodall played for the first time in nearly a month Saturday night against Louisville after missing five consecutive games with his troublesome abdominal injury. It was only the second time in the past two months that Woodall could play in a game.
If there was one piece of good news after a 73-62 loss to the No. 23 Cardinals -- the eighth consecutive for the Panthers -- it was that Woodall did not experience any setbacks with the injury.
That was not the case Dec. 27 at Notre Dame when Woodall played 18 minutes in a 72-59 loss. Woodall noticeably was hobbled in that game and said afterward that he did not believe he could help the team by playing through the injury.
On Saturday night, Woodall did not play well, but it had nothing to do with the injury. Now, it appears it's only a matter of knocking off the rust in his game.
- Game: Pitt vs. Providence.
- When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
- Where: Petersen Events Center.
- TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
"I was ready to play," Woodall said. "My injury was not an excuse. I'm back. I'm cleared to play. I didn't have it [Saturday]. I went out there and gave it my all. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near enough."
Woodall was 0 for 5 from the field with 2 assists and 3 turnovers in 21 minutes. It was a near identical stat line to the one he posted at Notre Dame when he was 0 for 5 with 2 assists and 2 turnovers in 18 minutes.
It's a far cry from the production Woodall engineered when he was healthy for the first seven games. Woodall was averaging 14.1 points and eight assists per game before getting injured in the late stages of a Nov. 30 victory against Duquesne.
Woodall scored 25 points in the season opener against Albany and reached double figures in five of those first seven contests. He dished out 10 assists in four of those games.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows from experience that it takes time for players to return to form after being out for long stretches. Levance Fields needed some time to recapture his game after missing seven weeks with a foot injury in the 2007-08 season. The same could be said for Jermaine Dixon when he tried to come back from a foot injury in 2009-10.
"Eight weeks is eight weeks," Dixon said. "There is no good way to go about it. You want him out there. You want him to play through it, but obviously his numbers were not indicative of how he started the year. I don't know any other way to go about it. You have to get him out there. He has to play.
"He'll be better next time out. That's what I told him afterward. 'You'll be better next practice, you'll be better next game.' Eight weeks is eight weeks. That's the situation we're in."
Woodall was hindered by some early foul trouble. He picked up his second foul 5 1/2 minutes into the game and could only play nine minutes in the first half. He played 12 minutes in the second half, but he never did get into the flow offensively.
"It was my fault after the first foul," Woodall said. "I should have backed up a little bit. In the heat of the moment, I wanted to be active and try to bring my team up. Unfortunately, he called a foul, and I had to sit on the bench a little while. I'm not going to use that as an excuse."
Pitt's next game is Wednesday against Providence at Petersen Events Center. Dixon has some issues to work out with the rotation before then. He played five guards against Louisville, and Ashton Gibbs is the only one who scored in double figures.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Epps, who had been a starter for the previous two games against Marquette and Syracuse, played one minute against the Cardinals and figures to see his minutes decreased more than any other player.
But Dixon is also going to have to decide if John Johnson or Cameron Wright is the best option off the bench. Johnson had five points in 19 minutes and Wright did not score in eight minutes. Wright started eight games with Woodall out and Johnson started twice.
Dixon said after the Louisville game that he played 10 players because he would like to limit minutes for his players in an effort to keep them fresh, but there is also the matter of chemistry. Finding the right mix with the rotation in upcoming games will be paramount for the Panthers as they try to break out of their slump.
"We just have to continue to get used to him being on the court now and build our chemistry more and more," Gibbs said. "It starts in practice and carries over into the games."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published January 23, 2012 5:00 AM