Panthers returning to form
Share with others:
WASHINGTON -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon second-guessed his decision to arrive in Washington Saturday afternoon after the Panthers lost at Rutgers earlier in the day. The idea was to keep his team together for some bonding and quality practice time away from the distractions of home, but as the days wore on he wasn't convinced it was paying off.
It wasn't until close to midnight Tuesday, shortly after the Panthers dismantled Georgetown by 28 points, that Dixon finally felt comfortable that he had made the right decision. After a 73-45 victory at Verizon Center -- one of the program's best road performances in history -- Dixon believes his team has turned a corner.
"We practiced really well the last two days here," Dixon said after the game. "It was something we needed. We gained some knowledge, some confidence and some understanding of how we needed to play."
The dominant performance came after sluggish games against Cincinnati and Rutgers to open the Big East Conference schedule. The Panthers had a renewed emphasis on some of the basic principles Dixon instills -- aggressive defense and offensive touches in the post.
The typical physical brand of Pitt basketball had been absent for a while and the Panthers were determined to challenge the 19th-ranked Hoyas.
"Everyone was going to foul out or we were going to be physical," Pitt senior guard Tray Woodall said. "Either way, we just wanted to be aggressive. We wanted to give it all we got. We wanted to leave it all on the floor.
"We wanted to make sure we got into them. We didn't want the refs to dictate the game. We wanted to dictate the game to them. I always feel like when we come out aggressive, the refs don't call too many fouls and they basically let us play. We wanted to get into them and make them make decisions."
Georgetown did not take well to the physical play. The Hoyas turned the ball over 17 times and were held to 35 percent shooting. Georgetown coach John Thompson III pointed to Pitt's physical style as one of the primary reasons the Hoyas suffered their largest margin of defeat in Big East play.
"I thought that they were extremely physical and that relates to scoring in the post and our turnovers," Thompson said. "I think we were waiting for the refs to make the adjustment instead of taking it into our own hands."
The physical style was reminiscent of the way Pitt played in the first eight seasons of Dixon's tenure. The Panthers got away from that style last season when they missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade and they certainly did not play that way in losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers.
The offensive statistics told the tale as well. After attempting 36 3-pointers in the first two Big East games the Panthers attempted just eight against the Hoyas. The guards penetrated to the basket and dished to the post players, who came through with efficient performances.
Power forwards Talib Zanna and J.J. Moore combined for 26 points and centers Steven Adams and Dante Taylor combined for 11. They were 14 for 25 from the field. The team was 27 for 49 (55 percent).
"We don't really want to take a lot of 3s," Woodall said. "No one on our team is a 3-point shooter. We wanted to make sure we attacked the basket and were aggressive."
Many questions arose after losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers. It wasn't just the fact that the Panthers lost, it was the manner in which they lost. They were outrebounded by both teams, allowed the Bearcats and Scarlet Knights to shoot high percentages and struggled to produce on offense.
Against Georgetown, the Panthers improved immensely in all three areas and appear back on the right track.
"I really didn't feel like we were off track," Woodall said. "We just needed to execute on defense. Now we're getting back to Pitt basketball -- getting guys layups, getting to the basket, being more aggressive. It's definitely a confidence-booster, coming in here and handling them like we did."
Dixon has a renewed confidence as well, and he enters a home game Saturday against Marquette believing the Panthers are on the upswing.
"It's coming," Dixon said. "Hopefully, it's coming. Hopefully, this is a good game to learn from and gain confidence from and keep us going in the direction we need to."
• Game: Pitt (13-3, 1-2 Big East) vs. Marquette (11-3, 2-0), Petersen Events Center.
• When: Noon, Saturday.
• TV: ESPNU.
First Published January 10, 2013 12:00 am