Ron Cook: Pitt, Patterson still have some work to do


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I have been pushing Pitt as the team to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I also have been pushing Pitt's Lamar Patterson as the leading candidate for the league's player of the year award.

What did Emily Litella -- the great Gilda Radner character on "Saturday Night Live" -- always say when she misspoke?

Never mind.

I'm taking it all back.

At least until I see how Pitt responds to a stinging home loss Monday night to Duke.

Talk about a disappointing performance in front of a record crowd at Petersen Events Center. I didn't see any team coming into the building and blowing out Pitt the way Duke did. I know, it was just one game. Pitt's season is hardly over. It still is very good team. It could come out and whip a strong Virginia team Sunday at home. But this loss to Duke didn't have the same feel that Pitt's loss Jan. 18 at Syracuse did. The Pitt coaches and players were angry after that game because they thought they should have won. Not this time. They were outclassed in every way.

Score one for the old ACC against an upstart from the Big East Conference.

Duke had better, more athletic players than Pitt.

Duke outrebounded Pitt.

Duke outdefended Pitt.

Duke outscored Pitt, 80-65.

"They played well and I don't think we did," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It got away from us."

Patterson, who played a superb all-around game in a win Saturday night at Maryland, struggled mightily against the defense of Duke's Rodney Hood. He made just 4 of 14 shots and had five turnovers.

"All props to Rodney Hood," Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker said. "I told him before the game he was going to shut him down. He did."

Duke's plan was to be aware of Patterson at all times. "I tried to make him work for everything," Hood said. "I wanted him to work for every single catch."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Patterson "one of the premier players in the country ... You just try to make sure he doesn't stick daggers in you." Then, he added, "Rodney is a heck of a player, too. Thank goodness we had him to guard him. They're kind of equal players. We got a wash there."

The problem was Duke also had Parker, who many believe will be a one-and-done player and a top-five pick this summer in the NBA draft. Pitt doesn't have that kind of player. Parker beat Pitt inside with dunks and outside with 3-point shots in the first half. He beat Pitt the whole game on the boards with 11 rebounds, a big part of Duke's 37-32 rebounding edge.

"He's playing lights out," Krzyzewski said of Parker.

The rebounding numbers disappointed Dixon. "I certainly knew if we got outrebounded, we weren't going to win." But Dixon was especially frustrated by Pitt's weak defense. Duke made 13 of 25 3-point attempts, including a 6-of-7 performance off the bench by Andre Dawkins. Duke didn't at all resemble the team that shot 30.5 percent Saturday in a win against Florida State.

"I don't think we handled our assignments well," Dixon said. "We had breakdowns often and early and they continued in the second half. That's on me. Maybe I didn't emphasize the 3 enough. If they felt we would win playing defense like that, I didn't get my message across."

Pitt is 192-23 in Petersen Events Center. The 15-point margin was the third-worst beating it has taken in the building, but it felt really rotten because it was against Krzyzewski and Duke, who made their first trip here. No team really, truly announces its presence in the ACC without measuring up against those guys.

Krzyzewski called it Duke's "biggest win" in a season that also includes wins against Michigan and UCLA.

"Because of the quality of team we played and the venue," Krzyzewski said. "This is a spectacular venue. I was really impressed with everything. It's a beautiful arena. The crowd was terrific. Pitt is a really great addition to what I think will be the best basketball league in the country."

It turns out the trip had some sentimental value for Krzyzewski.

"My mother is from this area, near Uniontown, a little town called Keisterville. There are good people in this region."

Krzyzewski, who has 974 wins, more than any coach in college basketball, laughed at the possibility of some listeners thinking he was going way overboard.

"You're probably saying, 'That's easy for you to say because you won.' But I'd say the same thing if we had lost ...

"Our respect not just for this Pitt team, but their program, is off the charts. They've established themselves as one of the premier programs in the country. And they have a heck of a team this year."

I thought so, too.

At least until Monday night.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published January 27, 2014 11:34 PM

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