The news Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been hoping to hear could finally come Saturday night with the expected return of injured point guard Tray Woodall.
Woodall, who has missed 10 of the past 11 games with an abdominal injury, said Thursday he is close to returning to game action.
"I definitely feel like I'm ready to play," he said after going through a full practice for the first time since a game Dec. 27 at Notre Dame. "I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'm going to go through two more days of practice, see how I'm feeling. Whenever I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go."
Pitt plays Louisville Saturday night at Petersen Events Center, and Woodall's presence on the floor would be a big lift for the struggling Panthers, who saw their losing streak reach seven games with a 71-63 loss Monday night at Syracuse.
Woodall was injured Nov. 30 against Duquesne and missed the next six games. He came back for the Notre Dame game and played 18 minutes in a 72-59 loss, but he complained afterward that he did not feel like he could help the team playing with the injury.
Woodall, the team's top playmaker and second-leading scorer at the time of his injury, missed the next five games, which included three losses decided by five points or fewer.
Dixon has said for the past two weeks that it is up to Woodall when he decides to return.
Woodall disagreed with that. He said that he has not been cleared to play until now.
"That's the thing," said Woodall, who spoke with reporters for the first time since the Notre Dame game. "Everyone has been saying I've been cleared to play. I heard it on the ESPN game when I watched it again. I never had the word that I was cleared to play. If I had the word, I probably would have tried to play. When I'm ready, I'm going to get on the court because I want to help my team."
Woodall said he feels much better now than he did in late December after the game against the Fighting Irish. In retrospect, Woodall said it was the wrong decision to convince team trainer Tony Salesi to allow him to play that game.
"I'm a lot more improved," Woodall said. "The Notre Dame game was my decision. I fought Tony on it. I came back way too fast. I wasn't ready. It was frustrating for me to see a lot of things on the court I could probably help with offensively.
"I know I wasn't ready defensively. I take full responsibility for that. I shouldn't have come back that early."
That's why Woodall is being cautious with the injury this time around. He does not want to jeopardize his career by coming back too soon. His injury is seen more in hockey players than basketball players, and he said doctors, trainers, coaches and he are learning about it as they go.
Woodall said conditioning will not be a major problem when he comes back.
"If I'm going to play, I'm going to play," he said. "I was fatigued today. I'm not going to lie. I feel like I got in better shape. If I play, I'm definitely playing more than 10 or 15 minutes."
Dixon has used some zone defenses recently, and there is a good possibility he will use more zones when Woodall returns. Woodall said playing defense has been an issue for him because of the quick changes of direction required by the man-to-man.
"I heard some of the coaches talking about that, too," Woodall said. "When I'm in the game, we'll probably play a lot more zone."
Pitt sophomore forward Lamar Patterson said Woodall has been sorely missed and his return will be a big boost for the Panthers.
"I can't wait," Patterson said. "I've been waiting for him all year. He's our leader, he's our captain. He moves the ball around. He's our leader out there. We really need him."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published January 20, 2012 5:00 AM