Pitt had its hands full Tuesday trying to stop Penn State guard Tim Frazier when the Panthers and Nittany Lions met in a Big Ten/ACC challenge game at Petersen Events Center.
Yes, the Panthers won, 78-69, but Frazier poured in 27 points. As a result, coach Jamie Dixon and his staff have emphasized perimeter defense and stopping the penetration of guards who are quick off the dribble like Frazier.
The Panthers (8-0) will get an opportunity to see how much they learned in just a few days. Loyola Marymount (6-2) visits Petersen Events Center tonight, and the Lions feature high-scoring guard Anthony Ireland, who can get to the basket for driving layups or penetrate and kick it out for assists.
Ireland, who is 5 feet 10, averages 18.9 points, 5.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. He also has an explosive first step like Frazier, and will force the Panthers to work hard to stay in front of him.
“They are similar [to Penn State], as they have a guard who is really explosive and can make plays and has the ball a lot of the time,” Dixon said. “We have to get better at containing those guys and keeping them in front of us. We had done a good job in the Stanford game and Texas Tech game, but the last two have gotten a little bit loose on us.
“We have to keep this guy, Ireland, in front of us.”
Dixon said the struggles Tuesday against Frazier and Saturday against Duquesne forward Ovie Soko are not unique to Pitt, but are a reality of defensive players trying to adjust to the new rules interpretations and how games are officiated.
He said that because games are now being called tighter, making it nearly impossible to draw a charge in the lane, players can try to get to the basket without worrying about being called for an offensive foul — and defenses are, in some instances, virtually powerless to stop them.
“He is another guy who wants to try and get to the free-throw line,” Dixon said of Ireland. “Like I said, we have to do a better job of keeping guys in front, but I think every coach is saying that right now as free throws are up for obvious reasons. You have to keep guys in front without fouling them, and that is not a one-man job, it is a team job.
“You have to use five guys and get back on defense. But the way the game is being played now, it is put your head down and go and hope you get the call. And that is what we will see from Ireland, as well.”
Pitt hasn’t played host to many teams from the West Coast, but Dixon said this game came about because Lions coach Max Good is a friend and was the coach at Maine Central Institute when former Panther Jaron Brown played there.
Dixon said he is amazed that the mere mention of Loyola Marymount always seems to make people reminisce about the great — and very entertaining — teams of the Paul Westhead era from 1985-90.
In those five years, the Lions led the nation in scoring three times and played in five of the highest-scoring games in NCAA Division I history. They set a Division I record for points per game in 1990 (122.4) and played in the highest-scoring Division I game, a 181-150 track meet, with United States International University in 1989.
The 1989 and 1990 teams, featuring Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, are the two that are talked about the most. The 1990 team advanced to the Elite Eight but lost to UNLV, 131-101, with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
Dixon, who grew up in Southern California, said he was familiar with those teams because Loyola was his hometown school. He often went to campus to play pickup games in the summer.
“It is not often we get West Coast teams out here, but this year we did,” Dixon said. “I’m excited about it. They have gotten off to a good start. … It is kind of funny that people still associate Loyola with [scoring a lot points], and really it is surprising the connection to those teams still continues today, but it does.”
Dixon said that although these Lions don’t play at the breakneck speed of the Westhead era, they are a little more up-tempo than most teams the Panthers have played this year.
“They do press, but it is obviously nothing close to back in the day,” Dixon said. “I found a tape of an old Loyola Marymount-UNLV game that they play and I watched it this summer. It wasn’t the same-paced game [as the current team], but they are pressing and do have a guard who can really score.”
NOTE — Dixon announced the 2014 recruiting class of Hampton forward Ryan Luther, Vanderbilt transfer and former Beaver Falls star Sheldon Jeter and 6-11 Shaquille Doorson, a native of the Netherlands who plays at Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands. All three have signed their letters of intent.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.