Panthers get early rise to the occasion in NCAA tournament


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The six blue stitches above Dante Taylor's swollen right eye were clearly visible in the afternoon sun.

Taylor can see just fine, he said Tuesday as he and his teammates loaded a bus at Petersen Events Center bound for a charter flight to Salt Lake City and the second round of the NCAA tournament.

No. 8 seed Pitt (24-8) faces No. 9 Wichita State (26-8) at 1:40 p.m. Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena.

"It's better. The swelling went down a lot. It's ready, the eye is not going to stop me from playing," said Taylor, one of two seniors who have been to the NCAA tournament.

Twice before, to be exact, for Taylor and Tray Woodall -- 2010 and 2011.

"Me and Tray try to talk about it pretty much every day, let these guys know don't let the moment pass you by," Taylor said. "There's a lot of games. We have to take it one game at a time, one possession at a time and we'll be fine."

The two have a 98-39 four-year record at Pitt, but have never advanced past the Round of 32 in the tournament.

"This is my last go-around. The last time I'll be here. We're all anxious, all ready to play," Woodall said. "[It's about] making sure we leave the floor with no regrets. This is a great matchup. They're just like us as far as going deep into their bench."

Taylor was limited at practice Sunday with lingering blurred vision after he was elbowed in the eye in a loss to Syracuse Thursday in the Big East Conference tournament.

He participated in a short practice Tuesday before the team left for the airport, as did James Robinson (thumb), said coach Jamie Dixon, who again will prepare his team for an early game.

The Panthers have just one day of practice in Salt Lake City, followed by an 11:40 a.m. tipoff Mountain time Thursday, one of six early and somewhat odd start times for the Panthers this season.

"I guess if a team is going to play an early game, it should be us because we've had a lot of early ones this year," Dixon said. "That's been unique. We played six or seven games that were noon, 1 o'clock or so. I guess we're equipped. We practiced for that, not by design, but it is how it worked out."

Dixon said the start time changes things a bit, most notably leaving little time on game day for last-minute preparations.

"It changes our routine a little and what we do, but we've been adjusting that all year trying to get to what we think is the best thing to prepare," Dixon said. "We're in the film right now, we're getting a lot of stuff in now beforehand because you can't get a lot done game day, obviously."

The Panthers haven't fared particularly well in those early games in recent years, losing to Pacific in the 2005 NCAA tournament in a game that started at 10:30 a.m. in Boise, Idaho.

Four of Pitt's eight losses this season came in games that started before 4:30 p.m., including an 11 a.m. tipoff at Rutgers.

"You never want to play that early, but we're used to it," Taylor said. "It's just a game. We have to get up, be ready early, play from the beginning and we should be fine."

In all, Dixon said he is excited, as is his team, to start fresh -- no matter what time.

"Last week doesn't matter too much, the rest of the season doesn't matter. It's what you do here now," Dixon said. "It's an interesting time."

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Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter: @JennMenendez. First Published March 20, 2013 4:15 AM


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