Deep bench pays big dividends for Pitt
Pitt's J.J. Moore, right, hugs Lamar Patterson after a victory against West Virginia Thursday at the Petersen Events Center.
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Ninety minutes before the game Thursday night against West Virginia, Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon was told his backup power forward, Talib Zanna, was going to miss 3-6 weeks with a fractured right thumb after he injured it following some horseplay with teammates earlier in the day.
Then, less than eight minutes into the contest with the Mountaineers, his starting power forward, Nasir Robinson, drew his second foul.
For most coaches, this would sound an alarm. But, for Dixon, the coach of what has been called the deepest team in America, it was merely a speed bump in the road to another victory.
Dixon turned to a couple of seldom-used second-year players, and they delivered some quality play off the bench to help the Panthers topple the Mountaineers, 71-58.
Redshirt freshman Lamar Patterson, who entered the game averaging 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, scored a career-high 11 points with five assists, two blocks, a steal and no turnovers in 22 minutes. Sophomore J.J. Richardson, who hadn't scored since a Dec. 18 game against Maryland Eastern Shore, was 1 for 1 from the field and had two points and two rebounds.
It was yet another showing of how deep and versatile the Panthers are this season.
"Lamar played really well," Dixon said. "He's a big part of what we've been doing. He just keeps getting better and better. I thought he really let things come to him, didn't force any passes. Just made the simple play. It was very good minutes for a freshman. Between him and Jonathan Moore, we have two very good wings coming off the bench. I'm really excited about their futures."
For Patterson, it was a long time coming. He had struggled at times this season as he battled Moore for playing time as the primary backup to Gilbert Brown at small forward. Patterson played well early in the season, including a seven-point game against Maryland, before slumping in the middle of the season.
For most of the past month, Patterson has regained the trust of Dixon, who has played him 14 minutes or more in five of the past six games in which he has dressed.
"It felt really good," Patterson said of the West Virginia game. "I've been practicing and playing pretty well. It felt good to go out on the court and finally put something together."
Patterson's teammates were not surprised by his ability to step forward and produce. Even though Patterson has struggled with his outside shooting for most of the season, he has the confidence of his coaches and fellow players because he has a firm grasp of Dixon's system and how to fit in.
One of the reasons Patterson is so valuable is that he can play a variety of positions, going back and forth from shooting guard to small forward to power forward.
Robinson played most of the second half at power forward after sitting with two fouls in the first half, but Patterson started the second half because Brown had picked up his third foul near the end of the first half.
"We knew it would happen," senior guard Brad Wanamaker said. "We always joke with him, telling him he's a practice player, but we're only joking around. We knew he would come around. He works hard every day. We're just happy for him."
Patterson has simplified his game. He has a tendency to be too cute with his passes, but he said he has learned his lessons well after being on the wrong end of some hard coaching from Dixon.
"In practice, I always try to do the extra pass, and it's a turnover," Patterson said. "I see the outcome of that. He's screaming at me and everything. I didn't want that to happen in front of 13,000 people.
"With this team, you can be right back on the bench. Someone will replace you. Dixon looks for people who have confidence in themselves and don't make stupid mistakes."
Richardson, who is 6-7, can play power forward and center. He had earned most of his minutes before the West Virginia at center, but that figures to changed now that Zanna is out of the lineup for the next few weeks.
"He's very physical and plays hard," Dixon said of Richardson. "He hasn't played a lot of minutes, but he's getting better and he works really hard. He'll give us some physicality, but he can put the ball in the basket, too."
Richardson played a total of 11 minutes in the seven games before West Virginia. He played eight against the Mountaineers and figures to be called on for similar minutes until Zanna returns.
"It's a great opportunity," Richardson said. "I've been waiting for it. For it to come now, at this point in time, with the team we have is a great thing."
NOTE -- Dixon said seniors Brown, Wanamaker and Gary McGhee have been invited to participate in the Portsmouth Invitational, the NBA tryout camp April 6-9 in Portsmouth, Va.
First Published February 26, 2011 12:00 am