Resilience remains a big factor for Pitt


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Pitt has had two of the more memorable comeback victories in school history within the past month with dramatic, last-gasp efforts against Louisville and West Virginia.

But, when it's all said and done, the two most important come-from-behind victories for Pitt this season might have occurred in November and December.

The Panthers are in great position for the NCAA tournament based on their impressive 8-4 record in Big East play, but where would they be if they had lost to Wofford and Duquesne in the first three weeks of the season?

The answer: on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Pitt trailed by 13 points in the second half in the Nov. 13 season opener against Wofford before rallying for a 63-60 victory. Three weeks later, the Panthers trailed the Dukes by 16 early in the second half before recovering for a 67-58 victory in double overtime.

For the Panthers, this has been the season of the comeback.

The players credit coach Jamie Dixon and his staff for staying positive, even when things look bleak; Dixon credits the players for being smart and able to make in-game adjustments.

"The coaches do a great job of motivating us, to keep pushing, giving us a never-say-die attitude," freshman guard Travon Woodall said. "He's always saying we're going to win this game regardless of how we started or how we're looking. He's telling us we're going to win."

That was especially true in those team huddles in the final minute against Louisville and West Virginia. Pitt trailed Louisville by five with a minute left in regulation before rallying for an overtime win. The Panthers were down seven to West Virginia with 44 seconds remaining and found a way to win in triple overtime.

"Even when we were down [seven] with a minute to go, coach still said we were still going to win this game, and we believed it," junior forward Gilbert Brown said. "And that's what I think really helped us push through and make the comeback we did. It was coach pushing us."

Sophomore forward Nasir Robinson credited the team's practice habits for the ability to produce late rallies.

"We go hard from the beginning of practice to the end of practice, and it carries into games," said Robinson, who forced the key steal that led to Ashton Gibbs' tying 3-pointer against West Virginia. "We just go out and don't let up until the clock hits double zeros. If we're down 10 or 5 with a couple of minutes left, we just keep fighting."

In addition to the Wofford, Duquesne, Louisville and West Virginia comebacks, the Panthers also trailed Syracuse and St. John's at halftime. They trailed Syracuse by 10 in the first half and fell behind by four to St. John's at the intermission.

Dixon had a more analytical explanation for Pitt's late-game heroics. He said this group of players has a unique ability to adapt during games.

"I think they're able to adjust, able to make changes," Dixon said. "They're bright. They're open to change in a lot of ways. They're able to recognize things and improve at some things during the course of the game.

"We have had some times where these guys haven't seen certain things and haven't attacked it as well early, and then they attacked it well as the game went on. We've had some situations like that. The Syracuse game, we didn't attack the zone well, but we were better at it as the game went on. We got better at block-outs as the game went on against West Virginia. Against Duquesne, we got better at attacking the zone. They have the ability to adapt, and they know they have to get better, so that's what drives them."

And while the comebacks against Wofford and Duquesne were not as dramatic as the others, they might be more important come selection Sunday.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230. First Published February 17, 2010 5:00 AM


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