The best thing that can be said about Pitt's 72-59 win against Division II UC San Diego before a crowd of 5,813 Friday at Petersen Center -- well, besides the fact that it was a win -- is that it is the first exhibition of the season and there is plenty of time for the Panthers to improve.
Coach Jamie Dixon said that while the Panthers didn't play well for long stretches, there were plenty of positives.
"I can tell you that nobody in that locker room feels good about how we played tonight and that's good," Dixon said. "We are definitely not going to be overconfident after this, that's for sure. We have to rebound better, we have to take care of the ball better, our shot selection at times wasn't good and we have to finish better. We missed a lot of layups and some free throws.
"Positives were our conditioning for some of our guys was good down the stretch, we made some plays at the end to win the game and we made some adjustments on defense to their action on offense. So it was good to see how we responded."
The final score was not really indicative of just how much the Panthers struggled and how hard and tough the Tritons played. It was a two-possession game with a little more than three minutes to play.
In fact, Tritons forward Hunter Walker missed a 3-pointer with 3:48 to play that would have given them a one-point lead.
From that point, the Panthers clamped down on defense and on offense went inside to Talib Zanna, Lamar Patterson and Michael Young to finish on a 14-3 run.
UC San Diego coach Eric Olen said the experience was a confidence boost for his team despite the loss, but in the end the Tritons just couldn't match the size and strength of the Panthers.
"I was pleased with our effort. We fought and battled all night, and for us it is encouraging," Olen said. "Our ability to hang around until the final few minutes is something to give us confidence because we won't play in an environment like this against a team that good all season. Their size did kind of wear us down. We were pretty small to begin with and then we had foul trouble to one of our big men.
"So it took its toll. All of their bodies are bigger than ours, and in the last couple of minutes, I thought, our big guys in particular, ran out of gas a little bit because of the physicality of them and how many minutes our guys had to play."
Pitt did have some bright spots, in particular the play of Young, a freshman forward/center who made a couple of huge plays down the stretch including a big offensive rebound that he turned into a putback for a three-point play.
Young will likely settle in as the starter at power forward but because of injuries to reserve centers Joseph Uchebo and Derrick Randall, he had to play the center spot for most of the exhibition.
"Mike was great for us," Dixon said. "The game just didn't flow well for us, we didn't sustain some things. But we had four freshmen out there and we played a lot of guys in different spots. But the encouraging thing was Mike playing really well."
Young, who finished with 11 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, said he was nervous before the game but felt like he settled in as he got more comfortable on the court.
"I was very nervous but it was fun," he said. "It was a much different experience from high school to college as players are bigger and stronger, but it was a fun experience and I'm very excited to start playing the regular season.
"I thought at the end some things flowed well for us, we ran our plays and were able to get the ball in the post."
Zanna led the Panthers with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Patterson added 16 points and three assists and James Robinson had 10 points and six assists.
Pitt made 20 of 32 (62.5 percent) from the free-throw line and only outrebounded the much smaller Tritons, 33-29. The Panthers did shoot 6 of 11 (54.5 percent) from the 3-point line.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720 or Twitter: @paulzeise First Published October 25, 2013 10:14 PM