Ron Cook: Bad week got worse for Pitt


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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has a bachelor's degree in finance from TCU and a master's degree in economics from the University of California-Santa Barbara, so it is no surprise he has a pretty good way with numbers.

"When you're 6-1, you certainly don't want to be 6-3," Dixon was saying Sunday afternoon.

This was immediately after Pitt's second home loss in six days, an especially hurtful 48-45 defeat against Virginia, which won on a 3-pointer in the final second. Pitt lost to Duke, 80-65, Monday night at Petersen Events Center, getting blown out in the second half.

"Not a good week for us, obviously," Dixon said. "We simply didn't get it done."

Pitt went into the Duke game with that 6-1 record in ACC play and was considered by some -- OK, me -- the favorite to win the league's regular-season title in large part because of how well it had played at Petersen Events Center, where it had a 192-22 record. Now, after the two losses and at 6-3 at the halfway point of conference play, Pitt is tied for third place with Duke behind Syracuse (8-0) and Virginia (8-1). It has played against four good teams -- Cincinnati in a non-conference game, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia -- and lost to all four.

Maybe next season for that league championship.

"If you want to win your league, you can't have home losses," Dixon said. "Now we have two of 'em."

The loss to Duke was understandable, if disappointing, because of the hype leading up to the game. Duke is a better team than Pitt with more athletic players. If the two played 10 times, I'm not sure Pitt would win once.

But Virginia, despite its nice record, shouldn't be able to come to Oakland and leave with a win. It's extremely well-coached by Tony Bennett, sure. It's patient on offense and relentless on defense. But it doesn't have better players than Pitt.

This was a really bad loss.

The obvious trend in the two defeats was a lack of production by fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson, who, just a week ago, was an ACC Player of the Year candidate. He made just 3 of 14 shots against Virginia and had 10 points, although Dixon said foul trouble in the second half contributed to his struggles. He was 4 of 14 with five turnovers against Duke. Pitt can't win when Patterson doesn't play like a star.

Much bigger trends to Dixon in the losses were timid work on defense and, especially, rebounding. Virginia's 33-32 edge in rebounding really irked him, just as Duke's 37-32 advantage did.

"In our minds, we have to win [the rebounding] by a big number," Dixon said. "Rebounding isn't something that happens by accident. Rebounding is something we emphasize. You've got to be good at what you emphasize. We weren't good enough. That put us in a bad situation. That's what happened two games in a row. That's why we got the results we did."

Pitt's defense was much better against Virginia than against Duke, although Virginia doesn't have the athletes Duke does. The winning 3-pointer by Malcolm Brogdon was contested. "The kid made a tough shot," Dixon said. "But we could have defended it better. We've got to learn to become more physical defensively without fouling."

Brogdon's winner came after Pitt's James Robinson missed an open 3-point shot. "I'd rather have our 3 than their 3," Dixon said. Pitt's Jamel Artis grabbed the rebound but missed a layup. "I just didn't finish," he said. "I've got to finish."

Artis' miss was Pitt's final one on a day it shot a miserable 31.9 percent. It wasn't just Patterson's fault. Robinson was 0 for 5. Pitt, which likes to run, couldn't get transition baskets. It had just six fastbreak points.

Down the stretch, Pitt disappeared offensively, scoring just one point in the final 6:52 after Cameron Wright hit an improbable 3-pointer that banked in at the end of the shot clock to give Pitt a 44-41 lead. It missed six shots, made only 1 of 4 free throws and turned the ball over on a shot-clock violation.

Virginia's defense is good.

But that good?

"I don't think we did what we wanted to do," Dixon said. "I don't think we finished well around the basket. That's something that's catching up with us."

It didn't help that Pitt big man Talib Zanna did little after injuring his left ankle midway through the first half. He returned late in the half but had no points and just one rebound in the second half. "He wasn't the same," Dixon said. "He certainly didn't look as explosive."

You can say the same thing about the Pitt team. Its season, once so promising, is close to crashing and burning. It has to get well in its next two conference games. It plays at Miami Wednesday night against a 2-6 team, then has Virginia Tech (1-8 in the ACC) Saturday at home before No. 1 and unbeaten Syracuse (21-0) comes to town Feb. 12. It's safe to say, now more than ever, that Syracuse won't be intimidated by Petersen Events Center.

"Any time we lose here, it's always magnified," Dixon said. "Any loss for us is disappointing. But your last game sticks with you."

This much we know for sure:

The Miami game can't get here soon enough for Dixon and Pitt.

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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