Woodall's return a shot in the arm

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When Pitt point guard Tray Woodall was sitting out games with an abdominal injury he could see exactly what was wrong with Pitt's offense, but he was powerless to do anything about it.

There was nothing Woodall could explain to teammates that would help them break out of their offensive malaise. Woodall could only help by playing because he is the only Panther on the roster with the ability to create open shots for teammates.

When Pitt made 11 3-pointers Wednesday night in an 86-74 victory against Providence to break an eight-game losing streak, Woodall's value became clear.

"We were flowing," said Woodall, who played in his second game after missing a month. "We were setting each other up. When I'm out there it allows guys more room to work the ball and everyone is able to get shots. It looked real good out there with everyone knocking down shots with confidence."

The Panthers shot 49 percent from the field and made 11 of 20 from 3-point range against Providence. They had 10 or more 3-pointers in four of the first nine games, but Wednesday's contest was the first time they made 10 or more in a game since a Dec. 6 victory against VMI.

Ashton Gibbs, who has been struggling all season with his outside shot, was the main beneficiary of Woodall's passes. He was 5 for 11 from 3-point range, including four in a row in less than two minutes late in the first half when the Panthers broke the game open.

It was only the third time all season Gibbs made five 3-pointers in a game.

"That was good to see," coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's taking good shots early and then getting into a rhythm. Then that carries through. I just think getting good shots early is a big difference-maker for guys, shooters especially."

Woodall also got into the act. He was 4 for 4 from long range. Woodall is a dual threat as a passer and shooter, which makes him invaluable to this offense because it needs both components to be effective.

"There's definitely more space with him out there," Gibbs said. "He's a playmaker, but at the same time he's a scoring option, too. The defense has to respect him. It opens up opportunities for me. I'm glad he's back. Now, the best is yet to come for him and this team."

Gibbs said he thought the offense flowed as well Wednesday night as it had all season. The Panthers had been held to 63 points or fewer in six of their first seven Big East games. The 86 points against Providence were the most they had scored since putting up 97 in the win against VMI.

"We did a good job of moving the ball, moving without the ball and passing," Gibbs said. "It's something we know we're capable of doing. Now we just have to keep it up and move on to the next game."

The Panthers are unusually reliant on their 3-point shooting because they do not have much of an inside scoring presence. When the 3-point shooting went south without Woodall the losses began to pile up.

Now they're looking to go north again, and they think they can do it with their 3-point shooting.

The Panthers rode their 3-point shooting to an 11-1 start. In early December, they were third in the country in 3-point shooting percentage. They had made 44.8 percent of their 3-point attempts in their first seven games.

Over the course of the next several weeks, the Panthers went from one of the best outside shooting teams to one of the worst. By Monday, they ranked 153rd out of 338 Division I teams, shooting 34.8 percent from 3-point range.

The Panthers entered their game Wednesday night against Providence shooting a paltry 26.7 percent from behind the arc in Big East play.

If the game against Providence was any indication, the numbers could be going back up again.

"Guys have been doing a great job of getting in the gym and get up extra shots," Woodall said. "Coach Dixon has been positive the whole time. He's been telling us we were one of the three best 3-point shooting teams in the country, and we can definitely get back to that because we have a lot of great shooters who work on their craft.

"I think we can definitely get back there."


By Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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