Patterson responds quickly to Johnson's unsubtle push
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Pitt's leading scorer has not reached double figures in the past three games and its second-leading scorer did it once. That reads like a recipe for a losing streak, but the Panthers have been able to rattle off three consecutive victories because of the resurgence of one of their more enigmatic players.
Junior forward Lamar Patterson has been on top of his game and has carried the offense during the streak. Patterson is averaging 14.5 points in the past four games, including 17 in Pitt's 68-64 victory Tuesday at Providence. He is 11 for 19 from the field and has scored 31 points in the past two games. He also has seven assists and two turnovers in that span.
"He's a great passer, has great vision," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He can pass, catch, dribble and shoot. Once you learn to use it and understand it, you can be effective. He's playing really good basketball the past two or three games."
While Patterson has been terrific in recent games, consistency remains an issue. His play evokes memories of another enigmatic small forward from Pitt's past.
Gilbert Brown, who played for the Panthers from 2007-11, was prone to alternating between big scoring games and no-show performances, and Patterson has been following a similar pattern. He has scored five points or fewer eight times this season, but has offset those bad games by scoring 14 or more six times.
With his 17-point effort Tuesday night, Patterson is averaging 10 points per game this season. Dixon attributed Patterson's resurgence to being pushed by freshman backup small forward Durand Johnson, who has been forcing his way into the rotation with his strong play off the bench.
Patterson acknowledged the competition as well, saying he values every minute he is on the floor now after playing just 18 minutes against Villanova, a game in which he contributed only five points.
When Patterson is on his game, Pitt's offense flows much better because not only does he possess considerable scoring ability, but he also is a highly efficient passer. It's no coincidence the Panthers shot 51 percent against Providence and 45 percent against Connecticut and shot poorly against Rutgers (37 percent) and Villanova (36 percent) when Patterson struggled.
Junior power forward Talib Zanna (11.7 ppg) remains Pitt's leading scorer, but he has scored in double figures just twice in the first seven Big East Conference games and has not scored more than nine in any of the past four.
Zanna got off to a fast start because he had finished well around the basket and shot well from mid-range. He has struggled in both areas in conference play. In the past four games, Zanna is 7 for 25 from the field.
After posting winning Big East road records in six of his first eight seasons as head coach, Dixon watched the Panthers find ways to lose all but one conference road game last season.
The 1-8 conference road record was the worst of his tenure, but the Panthers aren't having any problems this season. They've won three consecutive road games after dropping their first league road game at Rutgers.
The only Big East team with a better road record is Syracuse (3-0). Cincinnati is 3-1.
Free-throw shooting continues to be a problem for the Panthers. After making 12 of 21 against Providence, they are shooting 63.2 percent from the line in Big East play. That ranks 13th in the 15-team conference.
The poor shooting did not cost the Panthers against the Friars, but the misses at the line made the game more interesting than it had to be. It was not until freshman James Robinson made two free throws with nine seconds left that the game was put out of reach.
Providence was able to whittle away at Pitt's lead because the Panthers were missing opportunities to put the game away at the line.
Poor free-throw shooting contributed to two of Pitt's losses in conference play. The Panthers were 13 for 26 from the line in the overtime home loss against Marquette and 15 for 25 from the line in the home loss against Cincinnati.
Some of the team's best free-throw shooters have contributed to the recent woes. Zanna, shooting 68 percent this season, has made just 53.5 percent in conference play. And Patterson, shooting 69 percent overall, is shooting 62.9 percent in conference play.
But the biggest drag on the free-throw percentage is freshman center Steven Adams, who is shooting 34.2 percent. He has made 4 of 12 free throws in Big East play.
First Published January 24, 2013 12:27 am