Panthers' newest foe: unlucky 13
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Members of the Pitt basketball team likely do not know what triskaidekaphobia means, but there is good reason for them to learn about it.
It is the fear of the number 13. And since Friday the 13th came and went last week, the Panthers have reason to be very afraid of the unlucky numeral.
In the past two games against Marquette and Syracuse, Pitt has been victimized by 13-0 runs by the Golden Eagles and Orange that served as turning points in those contests.
Syracuse opened by outscoring Pitt, 13-0. Eliminate that 3:50 stretch, and the Panthers outscored the No. 1 team in the country by five points for the remaining 36:10.
- Game: Pitt (11-8, 0-6 Big East) vs. No. 23 Louisville (14-5, 2-4), Petersen Events Center.
- When: 9 p.m. Saturday.
- TV: ESPN.
Against Marquette, Pitt led, 41-36, with 11:04 remaining, but the Golden Eagles scored the next 13 points to seize control, making the final shot in that span with 7:52 left. Eliminate that stretch, and the Panthers outscored the No. 21 Golden Eagles by eight in the other 36:50.
"We're close," senior guard Ashton Gibbs said. "It's definitely obvious that we were right there with one of the best teams in the country. The little things are the only things separating us from all these other teams."
Against Syracuse, Pitt was its own worst enemy early. The Panthers worked their zone offense well and had numerous close attempts under the basket that failed. Pitt's inability to make those shots ultimately was the difference in the game. Pitt's coaching staff kept a running tally of the misses, and, by game's end, the number was -- you guessed it -- 13.
Cue the Jason soundtrack.
Gibbs called it "unacceptable" to miss so many point-blank shots.
"We have to make those plays," coach Jamie Dixon said. "We have to finish those."
The other problems that contributed to the Syracuse loss also surfaced against Marquette -- turnovers and transition defense.
Pitt had 17 turnovers at Marquette and 14 against Syracuse. Three of those turnovers against Syracuse came in the first three minutes and helped the Orange to its big, early lead.
Dixon's goal for every game is 12 turnovers or fewer, and the Panthers have failed to meet that goal five times in the past six games. No wonder they are mired in their longest losing streak in the past 16 seasons.
Syracuse was credited with 13 fastbreak points, with the majority coming in the opening three minutes. Syracuse's first four baskets were dunks or layups.
Marquette made four layups during its 13-0 run, and it got to the free-throw line as a result of some other fastbreaks, when the Panthers failed to play well in transition and had to foul. The Golden Eagles only had 11 fastbreak points overall.
It stands to reason that, when the Panthers eliminate these lapses, they will start winning again.
The losing streak stands at seven. The Panthers have not lost eight consecutive games since the 1993-94 season.
They will try to avoid doing that against Louisville Saturday night at the Petersen Events Center.
The Cardinals are struggling with a 2-4 record in Big East Conference play, but they play a style that could cause problems for the Panthers. They are a pressing team that is second only to Syracuse in steals among conference teams.
For Dixon and the Panthers, it is time to go back to the drawing board.
At least now, they have something Dixon has coveted during this losing skid -- time to practice.
"I'm proud of how hard we played," Dixon said. "I thought we did some things. We're going to continue to work and try to get better."
First Published January 18, 2012 12:00 am