Ron Cook: Lamar Patterson must play as if there is no tomorrow
March 20, 2014 12:14 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt's Lamar Patterson practices Thursday in preparation for his team's NCAA second round game against Colorado at the Amway Center in Orlando.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A year ago, Pitt's Lamar Patterson played a forgettable NCAA tournament game against Wichita State, making just 1 of 7 shots, including 0 of 4 on 3-pointers. Pitt's other big scorer, Tray Woodall, was worse, shooting 1 for 12. Wichita State won easily, 73-55. Of course, it won easily. Pitt was one-and-done.
Woodall, a senior, cried after the game.
Patterson immediately looked ahead to his senior season and the 2014 NCAA tournament.
"I'm glad I get another opportunity," Patterson said this week.
It comes today when No. 9-seeded Pitt plays No. 8 Colorado. It's Patterson's final chance for a long tournament run and he knows when it's done, it's done. He saw Woodall's pain a year ago. Patterson was a little-used reserve on Pitt's 2011 NCAA team, which, as a No. 1 seed, was upset by Butler, 71-70, in its second game. He felt like crying on that horrible day for senior teammates Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee. Patterson said he dreads similar anguish and will do everything he can to prevent it for as long as he can.
"I just want to go out with a win. Going out with a win means winning the national championship. I'm sure that's every team's goal. It's definitely my goal."
Pitt will go as far as Patterson takes it. Sure, Talib Zanna had a transcendent weekend at the ACC tournament, averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds in three games. But the Panthers still are Patterson's team. He has been their best player all season. He has to be their best player against Colorado.
"We need rebounding and defense out of him, first and foremost," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We need him to continue getting other guys their shots. He doesn't have to be our leading scorer because he does so many other things well. He just needs to let his offense come to him."
Dixon is right. Patterson's rebounding, defense and, especially, his passing skills are important. But Pitt needs him to score. His numbers in ACC games scream that. Throw out Pitt's double-overtime win against Virginia Tech when Patterson played with an injured right thumb that hurt so badly "it felt like it was going to fall off." In Pitt's 12 other conference wins, including the tournament, he shot 48.5 percent and averaged 20.7 points. In its eight league losses, he shot 33.6 percent and averaged 15.8 points.
Pitt will lose again if Patterson makes just one basket, as he did against Wichita State.
"I'm really confident going in," he said. "This is my dream. It was my dream as a kid to play in games like this. I always want to take the big shots. You've got to have that confidence in yourself. I have it."
It's reasonable to think Patterson will get it done against Colorado -- especially now that his thumb has fully healed -- and get Pitt to a second NCAA game Saturday, almost certainly against No. 1 Florida. If it doesn't happen, he still should be remembered well by Pitt fans. He has played in more games (146) than anyone in school history and is just one of three Pitt players, along with Carl Krauser and Wanamaker, to surpass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in a career.
Who knew Patterson, from Lancaster, Pa., would become so productive when he picked Pitt over a number of schools, including Temple and Saint Joseph's?
"It wasn't like I was a prized recruit that everyone is looking for these days, a one-and-done guy," Patterson said. "I was a program guy. I was going to get in there and get better as I went on and try to build something. It's the same with Talib. We've kind of been underdogs our whole life. We stuck it out here for five years. We had our ups and downs, but we got better. I can say this honestly ... We grew up in Pittsburgh."
Patterson and Zanna get another game together, maybe more, if you listen to Patterson. Getting by Colorado is the first goal and that won't be easy even if Pitt is a 61/2-point favorite. If Pitt does win, Patterson said, it won't be afraid of playing Florida, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, in front of what will be a pro-Gators crowd at Amway Center.
Patterson talked about the strides Pitt made at the ACC tournament by beating Wake Forest and North Carolina before losing, 51-48, to eventual champion Virginia. "We learned that we're right there with the best. Defense is coming around. Rebounding is coming around. We'll definitely be ready this week."
Patterson talked about how close this Pitt team is. "After a guy makes a mistake, you'll see the other guys run to him and pick him up. We're all brothers out there. If you can't count on your brothers, who can you count on?"
Patterson also talked about a valuable lesson he took from that Wichita State game. "It doesn't matter if you're a No. 1 seed or a No. 16 seed. It doesn't matter where you're placed. You still have to play the games. People can doubt you. They can say, 'You can't do this,' or, 'You can't do that.' But, at the end of the day, you've still got a chance. You just have to come through."
Wichita State went to the Final Four last season as a No. 9 seed -- just as Pitt is this year -- before losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the semifinals. It has won big again this season and takes a 34-0 record and No. 1 seed into the tournament.
"Why can't we do that?" Patterson asked.
That thought drives Patterson.
"Stats and personal accolades don't mean anything to me," he said. "It's all about winning. They don't put a statue of you up in the rafters when you're done. But they'll put up a championship banner for your team."
Nice attitude. Nice player. Nice career.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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