Pitt's offensive woes make an ugly return

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Pitt's offensive issues might not have been cured with the return of point guard Tray Woodall after all.

The Panthers bungled their way through a 63-51 loss Wednesday night at South Florida, showing little of the offensive efficiency they had displayed in recent games in which Woodall played.

Pitt is 4-3 in Big East Conference games with Woodall in the lineup. The three losses came against Notre Dame, Louisville and South Florida. All three are among the top defensive teams in the conference.

  • Game: Pitt (15-10, 4-8 Big East) at Seton Hall (16-8 5-7), noon.
  • TV: WTAE

The four victories came against Providence, West Virginia, Villanova and Georgetown. Providence, Villanova and West Virginia are among the worst defensive teams in the conference.

The Panthers shot 40 percent and scored 59 points in the loss Dec. 27 at Notre Dame. That was Woodall's first game after sitting out six in a row with his abdominal injury. He was ineffective in the game and said afterward that he rushed back too soon.

Pitt scored only 62 points in a home loss Jan. 21 to Louisville and the 51 points Wednesday night marked the second-fewest in a game this season. Only Rutgers held the Panthers to a lower point total, 39 Jan. 11.

Notre Dame is first in points allowed in Big East games. South Florida is fourth and Louisville ninth, although the Cardinals are second in the conference in field-goal percentage defense. They allow opponents to shoot a meager 38.2 percent. Notre Dame is fifth in field-goal percentage defense and South Florida is ninth.

By contrast, Villanova is 15th in the league in points allowed. Providence is 14th and West Virginia 11th. All three also are among the bottom half in the conference in field-goal percentage defense as well.

Georgetown is the only good defensive team the Panthers have beaten with Woodall in the lineup.

The bad news for the Panthers is they face a number of good defensive teams down the stretch as they try to salvage their NCAA tournament hopes. There are rematches against South Florida and Louisville and a game at Connecticut. The defending national champion Huskies are struggling to score, but they are a very good defensive team.

The good news is Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has shown the ability to adjust in rematches in previous seasons. He has rarely been swept by teams in the regular season and on numerous occasions the Panthers have avenged early conference losses later in the season.

But Dixon can't go out onto the court and make layups for his team. Opposing post players have been coming off of Pitt's forwards and centers to give extra help on penetration by Pitt's guards. They can do this because centers Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor consistently have not made shots around the basket.

That was the case again against South Florida, and Dixon said the players allowed some of those missed shots to adversely affect the team's demeanor.

"We got frustrated with the missed layups," Dixon said. "I think those disappointments caught up to us. They clogged the lanes, were in the paint. We seemed to fumble a lot of balls, missed layups early. We just didn't make good decisions off our penetration. We had nine turnovers in the first half. That really put us in a hole. That really set the tone for us. I thought we had to come out and play better in the second half and we didn't."

South Florida's size and length on the perimeter seemed to bother Pitt's guards, especially leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, who was held to a season-low four points. Taylor and Zanna combined for just nine points.

South Florida's size and defensive ability should not have been an issue, Woodall said. The vast majority of South Florida's players returned from last season, when Pitt easily swept two games from the Bulls.

"We played against the same big guys last year," Woodall said. "They're the same big guys. We knew how big they were, how physical they were, how long they were. They're the same guys."

With the loss, the Panthers fell to 4-8 in Big East play. They must win five of their final six regular-season games to finish with a 9-9 conference record. Only five Big East teams have advanced to the NCAA tournament with losing conference records since the conference was formed in 1979.

"We just came up short [Wednesday]," senior forward Nasir Robinson said. "We'll go to practice Friday and get ready for Seton Hall and get back to playing how we were playing before. We have to cut out the turnovers, get back to rebounding how we rebound and just move on to the next game."

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published February 10, 2012 5:00 AM


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