Pitt point guard Tray Woodall is taking the blame for the team's poor performance in the loss Wednesday night at South Florida. And it has nothing to do with his 4-for-13 shooting, his four turnovers or his inability to get the offense into a rhythm.
Woodall is taking the blame because he is the team's captain and emotional leader, and he said the Panthers were not mentally prepared to play.
"I can't even explain it," Woodall said. "We just have to get up to play every game. It was a game nobody got up to play. As a leader, I should get my guys better motivated to play games, especially with them having no fans. I think I did a bad job of getting my guys ready to play."
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak, and the Panthers have to put together another string of victories to get back in contention for an NCAA tournament berth. Woodall promised the Panthers will not have another emotional letdown for game Sunday at Seton Hall, or any of the other five remaining games beyond that.
"I'm definitely confident in that," he said. "I'm going to push my guys every day, push myself. We have to get back in the gym and get back to work."
Much of that work before Sunday will be spent on trying to fix an offense that went haywire against South Florida. The Panthers shot a season-low 34 percent from the field and compounded their shooting woes by committing 17 turnovers.
"We wanted to make it happen now instead of a couple of passes later, or a couple of their passes later," coach Jamie Dixon said. "They were patient and we preached how patient they were going to be. We talked about getting off to a quick start because we hadn't gotten off to quick starts, and sure enough we get down 6-0. We ran a couple of plays the way we wanted, we had layups, and we didn't get them. We were in too much of a rush."
Woodall also said that impatience came from not being able to defend South Florida. The Bulls shot 60.5 percent from the field, a season-high for a Pitt opponent, and the Panthers let their poor play at one end of the floor affect their play at the other end.
"It comes from not getting stops," Woodall said. "We're down early, six or eight points. Guys think we're going to make an eight-point play. We can't get it all back in one possession. A lot of guys, including myself, get anxious. We want to score and make it all up in one play. You have to be patient and grind it out. I have to do a better job of showing that on the court, grind it out, not take early shots in the shot clock and just be more patient."
Senior guard Ashton Gibbs, the team's leading scorer, was held to a season-low four points. He was so frustrated by game's end that he yelled a profanity at the Pitt bench late in the game and was pulled for a short time because of it.
Gibbs wasn't the only player frustrated with what was happening. Woodall said plays were not executed when they were called and he and sophomore center Talib Zanna spoke of a general malaise that infected the offense.
"I can't pinpoint why, but there was a lot of standing around," Woodall said. "There were a lot of guys watching who had the ball. No one was moving around screening. And the guys who were screening, we were breaking off screens, so there was pretty much no movement.
"Everybody was watching the guy with the ball. That's why we didn't get guys open shots when we did penetrate. When we did penetrate we thought guys were cutting, and they didn't. And we had turnovers. There was just a lot of standing around. That's not how we were winning games."
How does that get corrected?
"Guys have to screen," Woodall said.
In the four-game winning streak, Pitt had shot 43 percent or better in each of those games. Dixon is hoping the South Florida game was an aberration.
If not, the Panthers are going to have a tough time finding ways to win with a stagnant offense because the defense has been below average all season.
"Now we have to get back on the road, start winning and get another streak going," Woodall said.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published February 11, 2012 5:00 AM