Ron Cook: Special memories part of blowout win for Pitt



ORLANDO, Fla. -- NCAA tournament games are about unforgettable moments and amazing memories that last a lifetime. Pitt players always will remember their 77-48 blowout of Colorado Thursday, the most-lopsided NCAA win in school history. But one moment stood out. Point guard James Robinson had eight assists, but his best didn't show up in the box score. What he and teammate Jamel Artis did for freshman walk-on Joshua Ko shows why Pitt really is a team.

Late in the game, long after the outcome had been decided, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon had cleared his bench with the exception of Ko, who somehow found his way to Pittsburgh from Hawaii and survived a winter of what he described, charitably, as "a little different weather." Robinson and Artis picked Ko up off the bench and basically held him in front of Dixon, who quickly signaled for him to go in the game and then called timeout with 55.9 seconds left to make sure he got in. That's what you do when you're up by nearly 30 points. You create an unbelievable moment for a great kid, an awesome memory for him and his teammates, who appreciate his selfless work in practice.

"We're always together," Artis would say later of Ko. They come from different worlds -- Artis is from Baltimore -- but that didn't stop Artis from saying, "[Ko] is kind of like a brother to me. We're all brothers in here."

Ko missed a wide-open 3-point shot in the final seconds, one of the few shots that Pitt seemed to miss all game. But, typical of this day, teammate Aron Nwankwo -- another little-used reserve -- grabbed the rebound and scored on a put-back for Pitt's final points. The bench erupted with joy. It was a pretty big moment for Nwankwo, as well.

"That really was fun," Dixon said of the final minute.

The whole day was a blast for Pitt.

The precious memories late happened because Pitt played spectacularly early. It was their best first half of the season, maybe the best half of the Dixon era. Pitt's Lamar Patterson said the team wanted "to throw the first punch." Well, it did. And it was a knockout.

Now, Pitt steps up in class Saturday.

To the heavyweight class.

Florida, the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, is next after surviving Thursday against Albany.

"If we play like we did today, we're going to be hard to beat," Patterson said.

Pitt scored the first 13 points against Colorado. "A nightmare start," Colorado big man Josh Scott called it. Pitt shot 62 percent in the first half and had 13 assists and just one turnover. It scored on 21 of its 30 first-half possessions, prompting Colorado coach Tad Boyle to call his team's defensive intensity and focus "pathetic." Dixon, of course, saw it a bit differently. "I liked our unselfishness. I thought our shot selection was terrific. I don't think we took a bad shot."

Pitt finished with 18 assists and three turnovers.

Wow.

Defensively, Pitt was even better. Colorado shot 29 percent in the first half and scored on just eight of its 29 possessions. It didn't get to 10 points until more than 15 minutes had been played. Pitt had eight steals -- eight! -- on its way to a 46-18 halftime lead. Talib Zanna had 16 points in the half, nearly matching Colorado's total. "You go in at halftime down 28, there's not a lot you can say to your guys positively," Boyle said.

Colorado finished with five assists and 17 turnovers.

Wow.

"I don't know what Colorado team that was," Boyle said.

Pitt also was hard to recognize.

Really, who were those guys?

"Last week was big for us," Dixon said of Pitt's wins against Wake Forest and North Carolina in the ACC tournament before a 51-48 loss to Virginia -- a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament -- in the semifinals. "I think it was kind of the eye-opener for us. We didn't win the tournament, but we came out of there feeling that we should have won it. I think our confidence has built up."

That's a fair assessment.

"We feel like we can compete with anybody," Artis said.

Florida will be a big test. It has won 27 consecutive games, including the 67-55 victory Thursday against Albany. The guess here is Pitt won't win by 29 points.

Wright promised Pitt will show up.

"The University of Pittsburgh is never intimidated by anyone. Not in academics. Not in basketball. Not in football. Not in anything ...

"We have a lot of pride in our university. We have a lot of faith in our guys."

So maybe there are more moments and memories ahead for Pitt?

"We still have more in us," Wright said.


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.

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