Ron Cook: Inconsistent Patterson could be X-factor for Pitt


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SALT LAKE CITY

Can we agree with Pitt's Lamar Patterson on a couple of key points? He didn't have the best of college basketball seasons. But the year isn't finished.

"The year definitely isn't finished," Patterson said this week.

Pitt gets to play at least one more game, opening today in the NCAA tournament West Region against Wichita State at EnergySolutions Arena. Patterson is one of three Pitt players with notable tournament experience and might be the one guy who gives the team its best chance of surviving and advancing. If Pitt beats Wichita State, it will play again Saturday almost certainly against top seed Gonzaga, the No. 1 team in America.

"I have that in me. I know I have it in me," Patterson said. "I'm definitely confident. I want to take the big shot at the end of the game ...

"Everyone wants to be that guy. Everyone wants to play on the big stage. They call it the Big Dance for a reason. You dream about games like this when you're a little kid, laying in your bed, bouncing the ball off the wall. You have a couple of good games in this tournament, it can change your life forever."

Patterson had a couple of those games a year ago in something called the College Basketball Invitational after Pitt missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years. He was the CBI most valuable player -- averaging 13.3 points and 6 rebounds per game -- as Pitt won five times (in six games) to take the championship. It didn't change Patterson's life, but it made a lot of people think he would be Pitt's best player this season. He was not.

"I always expect more out of myself," Patterson said. "I'm not going to say I'm disappointed. But I felt like I could have had a better year."

Patterson is averaging 10 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. His big problem has been inconsistency. In a loss Feb. 16 at Marquette, he made 7 of 12 shots -- 4 of 7 3s -- and scored 19 points. In a home loss to Notre Dame two days later, he was 1 of 5 with two points. The two games were fairly representative of his season. He scored fewer than 10 points in four of Pitt's final five regular-season games. Then he went for 14 points and 11 rebounds in Pitt's 62-59 loss last week to Syracuse in the Big East Conference tournament. Who knows what to expect from him today?

"I have to do everything I've been doing and then some," Patterson said. "Everyone has to step up. Everyone wants to bring more to the table. Defensively. Rebounding. Scoring. Being a leader."

Don't underestimate the importance of that leadership thing. Pitt is a relatively young team with just two seniors, Tray Woodall and Dante Taylor. Six of the players in their 10-man rotation will be making their NCAA tournament debut. A seventh -- J.J. Moore -- played one minute against North Carolina-Asheville in the 2011 tournament.

The 2011 Pitt team was a No. 1 seed. Patterson played 16 minutes in that win against NC-Asheville and eight minutes in a crushing 71-70 loss to No. 8 seed Butler in Pitt's second game.

"I saw the pain in the seniors after that game," Patterson said. "I felt that pain. We all felt like, 'This is our year. We've got to get it done!' But we didn't. Then Butler goes on and plays Connecticut for the national championship. That makes you sick to your stomach. You think, 'There's no way they should be moving on.' That stinks. I don't want to be in that situation again."

Not nearly as much is expected of this Pitt team, a No. 8 seed. It's Pitt's lowest seed since it was a No. 9 in the 2005 tournament and lost to Pacific in its first game. There will be much disappointment among the Pitt fan base if the team does another one-and-done. But it's hard to imagine there being much surprise.

You might not want to mention that to Patterson, though.

"I love this team. I love these guys," he said. "We've got everything you need. We've got an inside presence. We've got a shooting presence. We've got guys who can drive. Rebounding, we're a tough team. Defensively, we're a tough team. We've got 10 guys who can play. You can leave it all on the court because you know a great player will be coming in for you ...

"I really love this team."

Wichita State probably still will show up. Its players also are eager to play on a big stage. Its most recent NCAA tournament experience wasn't very satisfying, either. It lost as a No. 5 seed in its first game a year ago to No. 12 VCU, 62-59.

"We've got to be ready," Patterson said. "We've got to be sturdy."

Ready and sturdy work.

Ready and sturdy are good.

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Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published March 21, 2013 4:00 AM


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