Ron Cook: There should be no shame in loss to Florida

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ORLANDO, Fla. — It's natural to want to blame someone when your team loses. You're probably blaming coach Jamie Dixon for not having his Pitt guys better-prepared for Florida Saturday in the NCAA tournament. Or Chris Jones for not fouling Florida's Scottie Wilbekin at the end of the first half. Or Lamar Patterson for having one of his worse games at a really bad time. Or the Pitt team for getting outrebounded by seven, allowing Florida to make 10 steals and generally performing, in Dixon's word, "poorly."

But the blame game is silly in this case.

Pitt could play Florida 10 times and wouldn't win once.

Florida is that much better.

That's why there was no shame in this loss.

Or blame, for that matter.

"They're big, strong, old and deep," Dixon said of the Gators. "They're the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament for a reason. And we got 'em in Florida."

The result was ugly and lopsided for Pitt, a thorough 61-45 beating. It would have been much worse if Florida hadn't missed its first eight 3-point shots -- most on good looks -- in the second half.

Immediately after the game, the Pitt players were in no mood to hear how outclassed they were. Many cried, realizing the finality of the moment, that this bunch never would practice or play together again. James Robinson sobbed in front of his locker before composing himself enough to say, "We just didn't bring it today. We know we're better than this. That's what [stinks]."

Of course, the Pitt players were down. After playing so well in the ACC tournament and in their blowout of Colorado in their first game in the NCAAs, they were convinced they could make a long run. They had a right to feel that way. They could beat many of the teams still left in the tournament. It was a shame they drew Florida in their second game. It couldn't have been a worse matchup.

Dixon didn't mention the Florida players are quick, did he? Well the Gators are so quick and athletic that it's almost ridiculous. The only other team that Pitt played this season with that kind of athleticism was Duke. It lost by 15 points.

Pitt had no answers for Wilbekin, who scored 13 of 15 Florida points in one stretch in the second half. His teammates kept looking for him, coming off one ball screen after another. Five of his six baskets in that run were off drives in the lane. This was not surprising. Pitt has had trouble all season guarding quick point guards off the dribble. Wilbekin took advantage of it. "That's the best I've ever seen him play," Pitt's Cameron Wright said.

Wilbekin's quickness stung Pitt at the end of the first half. Dixon, knowing Pitt had three fouls to give, put Jones in the game with instructions to foul Wilbekin after an inbounds pass. Jones obliged with 3.7 seconds left. Jones was supposed to foul again after Florida inbounded the ball, but he allowed Wilbekin to blow by him and throw in a 3-point shot at the buzzer. It's hard to say that was a killer play in a 16-point loss. But it didn't help, turning what should have been a 24-22 deficit into a 27-22 gap.

"You make a shot like that, I'm sure it makes the basket seem a whole lot bigger for you," Wright said. "It wasn't surprising [Wilbekin] had a big second half."

Florida was great in the second half. Two plays stood out. Wilbekin hustled for a loose ball, saved it from going out of bounds and got it to teammate Casey Prather, who quickly found big man Patric Young for an alley-oop dunk. Later, Prather stole the ball from Patterson and found teammate Will Yeguete with a behind-the-back pass before Yeguete made an uncontested, fastbreak layup.

It was Showtime at Amway Center.

Pitt's problems were complicated by the fact that Florida, according to Dixon, was "by far, the most physical team we've played. They just banged us around all game long." It showed in Florida's 38-31 rebounding edge and, especially, in its 14 offensive rebounds. Curiously, it did not show in the fouls called on Florida. It had just two personals in the first half and none in the first nine minutes of the second half. Again, it's hard to say that was a big factor in a 16-point loss.

Pitt shot just 37 percent. In the first seven minutes of the second half, it made only 1 of 11 shots, scored 2 points and had 4 turnovers. Game over.

Patterson's numbers in his final Pitt game weren't pretty: 3-of-11 shooting, including 1 of 7 on 3-point shots, and 8 points. Wright was nearly as inaccurate, making just 3 of 10 shots.

"I felt like we had some great looks," Wright said. "I know I missed a lot of shots I normally make. Mid-range, wide-open jump shots. I just missed 'em."

Wright, unlike Patterson and Talib Zanna, still has a year of eligibility remaining. He was thinking about it even before he made the long walk to the Pitt bus for the start of the trip home.

"I hope Florida wins it all. Whenever you lose, you want to be able to say you were beaten by the best," Wright said.

"But I won't watch them in the rest of the tournament. I won't watch any of the games. I can't. I'll be in the gym, working on my game, trying to get better."

That's all that Pitt has left now.

Next season.

Ron Cook: 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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