Unwise choices lead to Pitt defeat at Louisville
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon likely is wishing he had conserved his timeouts Sunday against Louisville. Without them, he watched his team unravel with a series of questionable decisions in the final minute in a game he said the Panthers should have won.
Louisville took advantage and eked out a 57-54 Big East Conference victory, extending Pitt's losing streak to five games. This one was unlike the previous four. The Panthers (15-14, 4-12) played hard and defended well, but some mental breakdowns by their most experienced players led to the late-game meltdown.
Junior point guard Tray Woodall made two of the questionable decisions. The first came when he took an ill-advised shot when the Panthers were down by one and had possession of the ball with 20 seconds remaining.
After Louisville freshman Chane Behanan missed the front end of a one-and-one with 24 seconds left, Woodall got the ball and hurried up the floor. He drove to the free-throw line, turned and threw up a shot that failed to hit the rim.
Dixon said it was a set play that was not executed in the correct manner.
"We ran a play, but obviously we have to get a better shot than what we got," Dixon said. "We have to do a better job with that. We were in position. We were down one and got the ball. We did a good job of putting ourselves in that position, and we didn't get it done."
Sophomore forward J.J. Moore was unaware of a play being called.
"There wasn't really a play," said Moore, who led Pitt in scoring for the second consecutive game with 16 points. "We wanted to try to score quick, or slow it down so we could get the last shot. Tray saw an opening and took the shot."
Woodall was not made available to the media afterward, so it's unknown what his thought process was at the time. But there was no reason to want to score quickly. The correct play usually in that situation is to take the final shot of the game, or with enough time to get an offensive rebound if the shot is missed. Woodall let fly with his air ball with 15 seconds remaining.
The Panthers were in that position because they ran out of timeouts. Dixon called the team's final timeout with 29 seconds to go after Dante Taylor dunked to cut the lead to 53-52. Dixon set up a press and forced the ball into the hands of Behanan, a 60 percent free-throw shooter.
After missing the first time, Behanan made his next two free throws with 13.2 seconds left after he was fouled again. It was then that Woodall made another questionable decision.
Woodall drove to the basket and scored with five seconds left to cut the lead to one again. The Panthers fouled Peyton Siva with four seconds on the clock, but he made both free throws to restore the three-point lead.
Ashton Gibbs took a desperation 3-point attempt as time expired, but his shot hit the back of the rim.
"That's a tough call," Dixon said of Woodall's decision to go for a 2-pointer instead of a 3-pointer. "Obviously, we didn't win so that can be questioned afterward. When you lose, I guess that has to be questioned. We had time. We fouled pretty quickly. When you lose, I guess everything can be questioned afterward."
Those weren't the only missed opportunities. Only the ones in the final 20 seconds.
With 2:42 remaining and Pitt down by five, Nasir Robinson was fouled intentionally by Gorgui Dieng. But Robinson missed both free throws and then the Panthers failed to score on the possession. What could have been a four- or five-point possession produced nothing.
"I felt confident," Robinson said. "I just came up short."
Pitt had a 30-25 lead in the early minutes of the second half before Louisville went on a 15-4 run to take control midway through the half. In that time Pitt went almost six minutes without making a field goal.
Russ Smith did most of the damage for the Cardinals, scoring 11 consecutive points in a five-minute stretch. His 3-pointer with 9:20 remaining gave the Cardinals a 44-40 lead. A short time later, Kyle Kuric made a layup, and after the play Pitt's bench was called for a technical foul.
Kuric made one of two free throws for a 47-40 lead.
"We felt it was a game we should have won," Dixon said. "It just got away from us. We battled through a lot of things. We were down, we had foul trouble. We came back and had an opportunity at the end. We're disappointed in the loss."
Louisville coach Rick Pitino concentrated his efforts on shutting down Woodall and Gibbs -- Pitt's top two scorers -- and his players came through with a great defensive effort. Gibbs and Woodall each had four points.
Woodall was 2 for 10 from the field and had six of the team's 19 turnovers. Gibbs 2 for 5 and committed two turnovers.
"We were going to stop those two guys," Pitino said. "This team is going through a tough season. It's been a difficult time for them. Sometimes, it's unexplainable. These types of things happen to all of us throughout our careers. You get on a run, and all of a sudden you get in a rut and you can't get out of that rut. It happens to all of us in basketball."
Gibbs has been in a rut unlike any other in his career. He was held to single digits for the fourth time in the past five games, and he failed to make a 3-pointer for the third consecutive game.
Dixon said Gibbs is at fault for passing up too many open 3-pointers.
"We've gone through this before," Dixon said. "This isn't a short-term thing. He passes up open shots and shot-fakes and puts it down. We've been telling him to take the open 3. We've wanted him to take more 3s for a while now. This isn't just this year. This is something we've talked about often. I thought there were a couple [3-pointers] he passed up. It's something we're going to continue to work on."
NOTES -- Dixon changed his starting lineup by inserting Taylor in at center in place of Talib Zanna. Taylor responded with 11 points and five rebounds. ... It was the first time Taylor scored in double figures since scoring 14 in a Dec. 21 victory against Saint Francis of Loretto, Pa. ... The Panthers outrebounded the Cardinals, 38-25. ... The Panthers had 21 field goals to Louisville's 17, but the Cardinals outscored the Panthers, 18-11, from the free-throw line.
First Published February 27, 2012 12:00 am