Panthers hoping to find shooting touch out West


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One day after successfully negotiating its shortest road trip of the season, Pitt embarked yesterday on its longest journey, a trip to Seattle where the Panthers will play the University of Washington tomorrow afternoon.

The Panthers left Pittsburgh yesterday evening and were to arrive in Seattle late last night. That gives them 36 hours to acclimate themselves to the time change before tomorrow's tip-off at noon PST against the Huskies.

Perhaps somewhere along the way they can rediscover their long-lost outside shooting touch. Through eight games in Pittsburgh -- seven at home and one on the road at crosstown rival Duquesne -- the Panthers are struggling from behind the 3-point line, and they're hoping a change of scenery can do their shooting woes some good.

No. 12 Pitt improved to 8-0 with a 73-68 victory Wednesday night against the Dukes despite shooting a season-low 41 percent from the field and making just 4 of 16 attempts from behind the 3-point line.

That was the first time the Panthers shot below 43 percent this season, but it was not the first time they struggled with their outside shooting. After being one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country last season, the Panthers are mired in an early season shooting slump.

Pitt shot 38.3 percent from 3-point range last season, second only to Notre Dame in the Big East. This season the Panthers are near the bottom of the conference, shooting 33.9 percent.

"I think we're getting good shots," coach Jamie Dixon said. "I've been a little surprised by our shooting percentage because we've been shooting well from the free-throw line. I thought we would have a good 3-point shooting team. We've had some injuries. In the end, we'll be a good 3-point shooting team, I'm pretty sure of that."

Of the starters who played last season only Sam Young is shooting a higher 3-point percentage than last season. Guards Ronald Ramon, Mike Cook and Levance Fields are all shooting a lower percentage.

Fields and Cook, in particular, are struggling. Fields, who shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range last season, is shooting 20.6 percent (7 for 34) this season. Cook (47.8 percent from 3-point range last season) is shooting 29.4 percent (5 for 17).

"We just have to keep shooting," said Fields, who was 0 for 6 from 3-point range against Duquesne. "From a personal standpoint, I think I forced a couple of them [Wednesday]. The rest of the guys are just missing some right now. I just know we have to keep shooting. I know no one is lacking confidence. We'll keep shooting them. On Saturday, hopefully they go down."

Strangely enough, the best 3-point shooter on the team to date is Young, a power forward. Young is Pitt's most improved outside shooter. He made just 13 of 42 attempts from behind the 3-point line last season. He is already 12 for 21 through eight games.

If it wasn't for Young, Pitt might have lost its first game of the season at Duquesne. Young made three of Pitt's four 3-point field goals, including the shot of the game with 1:46 remaining after the Dukes drew within one.

"I would expect my percentage to be high because I don't take that many," Young said. "I take only maybe two per game. I expect Ron and Levance to come around."

Cook said the outside shooting is not a concern because the Panthers are doing so many other things well. If there is a silver lining, Washington's opponents are shooting 40 percent from 3-point range as the Huskies invite teams to beat them from behind the arc.

"We have to lock in more and concentrate, maybe get some extra shots," Cook said. "But that's the least of our worries right now. We know our shooting is going to come back to us. We have guys who work hard on their shots. We know we have guys who are strong from behind the 3-point line. We're going to get into the gym and try to fix it."

Shooting woes

The Panthers have not been shooting well from the 3-point line. Here's a look at their averages behind the arc compared to last season.

Player.........'06 -'07......'07
Mike Cook...........478........294
Levance Fields......356........206
Ronald Ramon........451........400
Keith Benjamin......255........379
Sam Young...........310........571
Team................383........339


Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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