After each game Pitt's coaches will study the box score and look at the number of minutes that each of the players logged. It is becoming a running joke among the coaches about the unusually high number of minutes that sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs has been playing.
"A couple of times I'll look and say he played 39 minutes," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "And I'll say, 'I didn't hear any of you guys tell me to take him out.' "
Translation: Gibbs is playing too well for the coaching staff to want to take him out of a game.
Gibbs, who is averaging 17.5 points per game in his breakout season, has not played fewer than 35 minutes in any of the first five Big East Conference games. He played all but one minute of a thrilling 82-77 overtime victory Saturday against Louisville.
Over the years Dixon has made it a point to rest his starters throughout the course of the season. For instance, the leader in minutes played last season was Levance Fields, who played 32.4 minutes per game. Gibbs is averaging 35.1 minutes per game and 38 per game in conference play entering a game tomorrow against Georgetown.
The highest number of minutes any player has logged under Dixon was Carl Krauser, who averaged 36.1 per game in 2003-04.
"Normally I would be concerned," Dixon said. "But he doesn't look tired out there. He seems to get strong as the game goes on."
Dixon said he would have liked to have played redshirt freshman Travon Woodall more against Louisville, but he did not find an appropriate time to take Gibbs out of the game.
Another aspect of that decision was the play of Woodall, who committed three turnovers in a season-low eight minutes against the Cardinals. Woodall's minutes have declined in recent games as he struggles to find a niche on the team.
Woodall started the first 10 games at point guard when Jermaine Dixon was injured, but his role has changed substantially with Dixon in the lineup.
The same can be said for senior transfer Chase Adams, who has not played in the past three games. Adams averaged almost 20 minutes per game in non-conference play, but he has only played six minutes in the first five Big East games.
"Ashton is playing pretty well," Jamie Dixon said. "He's the more experienced of the guys. I'm not searching for someone to go in for Ashton."
Strong legs are important for a shooter such as Gibbs, who is taking extra treatment in the training room to help his body recuperate from practice to practice and game to game.
"It's an opportunity, and I'm taking advantage of that opportunity," Gibbs said. "I just have to keep my body in shape as it gets deeper and deeper into the season."
Gibbs did not report to Pitt in tip-top shape when he arrived as a freshman last year. He has had to trim some body fat and work hard to enhance his body.
Junior center Gary McGhee said Gibbs' evolution from his freshman to sophomore season has been inspiring.
"It's real impressive," McGhee said. "Over the summer, he changed his body and got in real good shape, so he's able to play those long minutes."
NOTES -- Pitt jumped seven spots to No. 9 in The Associated Press poll and nine spots to No. 11 in the ESPN\USA Today coaches' poll. ... The Panthers cracked the top 10 in the AP poll for the ninth consecutive season. ... The Panthers are 5-0 for the third time in Big East play. They have never started 6-0 in Big East play.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published January 19, 2010 5:00 AM