Ron Cook: A sad, inexplicable day for Pitt


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SALT LAKE CITY -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon didn't have any answers for his team Thursday at the NCAA tournament. There was nothing he could do as his players missed shot after shot against Wichita State, turned the ball over 15 times, failed to get big rebounds, were beaten to just about every loose ball and couldn't make a defensive stop when they needed one. But Dixon said he felt most helpless in those hurtful moments after Pitt's 73-55 loss, another abrupt, premature ending to a once-promising season. He couldn't look at senior guard Tray Woodall as Woodall dissolved into a puddle of tears at the podium at the postgame news conference.

"I feel bad for him," Dixon said later. "I feel bad that I was sitting next to him and couldn't do anything for him."

Woodall took the loss hard after shooting 1 for 12 with five turnovers before fouling out late. He was Pitt's best player all season. He was the worst on this rotten day at EnergySolutions Arena.

"It's a bitter taste in my mouth to end my career with one of the worst games I've ever played in my history," Woodall said in a voice that was barely audible. "I'm sorry I let my team down."

Pitt senior Dante Taylor, next to Woodall at the podium, tried to console his best friend and roommate, putting his big right arm around Woodall's shoulders. But Woodall was having none of it.

"One of the worst games I've ever played," he muttered.

The loss wasn't all on Woodall, who has played a major role in many of his 99 wins at Pitt. Freshman big man Steven Adams played his best game against Wichita State with 13 points and 11 rebounds. But the rest of the Pitt players did nothing to bail out Woodall. Maybe it was the early 11:40 a.m. start local time, but that's an unacceptable excuse. More likely, Pitt just isn't good enough. It doesn't have that one scorer it can count on every game. Lamar Patterson made just 1 of 7 shots against Wichita State. When your two best players combine to shoot 2 for 19, you aren't going to beat Bethune-Cookman in December let alone a quality opponent in the NCAA tournament. When your team shoots 1 for 17 on 3-pointers, as Pitt did, you're not going to win, although Wichita State found a way despite making just 2 of its 20 3-point shots.

"How do you foresee something like that?" Dixon asked of his team's wickedly poor shooting. "Do you tell them, 'Don't shoot today'?"

Pitt was outrebounded, 37-32. That troubled Dixon. It was sloppy with the ball, which also irked him. Maybe most egregious of the 15 turnovers was a lazy pass by Trey Zeigler for Woodall that was intercepted by Wichita State's Tekele Cotton, who turned the steal into a dunk and a 45-35 lead with 10 1/2 minutes left.

"They played great and seemed to be far more aggressive than we were," Dixon said. "I can't explain it. I know we're a better team than what we played today. I'm disappointed about that. Today just wasn't our day. We didn't well in any facet, really. I'm sorry it ended this way for our team."

Sadly, Dixon is getting used to that sick feeling. Pitt is strong almost every regular season in the Big East Conference, which has been the best in the country. But it keeps coming up short in the postseason. It lost to Syracuse last week in the Big East tournament, the fourth time in five years that it lost its first game in that tournament despite having a double-bye each time. In the 2011 NCAA tournament, it lost its second game to Butler despite being a No. 1 seed. In the 2010 tournament, it lost its second game to Xavier despite being a No. 3.

"You've got to win a lot of games just to get into the tournament," Dixon said. "That shouldn't be forgotten."

Dixon's critics probably don't want to hear that this morning. They are growing in number. He has been Pitt's coach for 10 seasons and has won a staggering 262 games. He has taken teams to nine NCAA tournaments but hasn't made it to a Final Four and has coached in just one Round of Eight and two other Round of 16s.

Pitt didn't get by the Round of 64 this season.

Maybe next year.

Dixon made it clear he plans on being back despite speculation that Southern California plans to take a run at him for its vacant job. You might want to see him leave, but I hope he stays. He's a good coach. He will get Pitt to a Final Four before he's finished coaching.

"I can't wait [for next season] because I know we have a great group and I'm excited about it," Dixon said.

Adams should be back for his sophomore season and said he plans on being back, although NBA money might entice him to leave early. "He's going to be a great player, no question," Dixon said. Eight of the 10 players in Pitt's 10-man rotation will be back. Only Woodall and Taylor are leaving.

"I'm looking forward to watching these guys and coaching these guys and them being better next year," Dixon said.

That thought is the only thing that eased Dixon's pain as he sat in a corner by himself outside the Pitt locker room. He hurt for the program -- for every player -- but mostly for the two seniors, Woodall and Taylor.

Especially Woodall.

"I thanked him for everything he gave to this program," Dixon said. "I'm sure not going to blame him for this loss. I'll take the blame."

There really wasn't much Dixon could do for Woodall to make him feel better.

But there was that.

There was that.

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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 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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