Pitt, Notre Dame on that fine line
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon shouts out instructions against Marquette Saturday in a 79-69 loss to the Golden Eagles.
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Things can change quickly in the Big East Conference. One day there are visions of a conference championship and the next the realization that the bottom half of the league beckons if one loss suddenly turns into a losing streak.
That's the reality for Pitt after a 79-69 setback Saturday at Marquette, which sent the Panthers into a tie for fifth place when a victory could have vaulted them within a half-game of first place.
All of which makes a game tonight against Notre Dame so important. The Fighting Irish (20-6) and Panthers (20-6) enter the contest with 8-5 conference records and the winner will remain in position to contend for one of the top four spots and a double bye at the Big East tournament. The loser will fall to seventh place and only a half-game ahead of Cincinnati (19-7, 7-6), Villanova (16-10, 7-6) and St. John's (15-10, 7-6), which are tied for eighth place.
No. 16 Pitt (20-6, 8-5 Big East) vs. No. 21 Notre Dame (20-6, 8-5), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
- TV, Radio, Internet:
ESPN, KDKA-FM (93.7), www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Coming off 79-69 loss Saturday at Marquette. ... Has lost four consecutive games and five of the past six in the series against the Irish. ... Junior F Lamar Patterson (10.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) has led the team in scoring in five of the past eight games and leads the team in scoring in Big East Conference games. ... Senior G Tray Woodall (10.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg) has scored in double figures in five consecutive games.
- Notre Dame:
Coming off 71-54 loss Saturday at Providence. ... Has won five of past seven. ... Led by C Jack Cooley (13.9 ppg, 11.0 rpg), G Jerian Grant (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and G Eric Atkins (12.5 ppg, 4.7 apg). ... Mike Brey is in his 13th season as head coach and has a 280-138 record.
- Hidden stat:
Atkins is shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range in Big East play.
Both teams will be looking for bounce-back victories. Notre Dame lost by 17 Saturday at Providence. It was the largest margin of defeat for the Irish this season and coach Mike Brey said after the game that it was like "the varsity versus the jayvee."
Pitt also has a sour taste from its defeat. The 10-point loss was their worst of the season and coach Jamie Dixon said: "We got what we deserved."
Dixon blamed himself for not having his team prepared to play better at Marquette, which shot 56.5 percent, dominated the boards and got to the free-throw line almost at will.
"We didn't do what we had to do, things we emphasized," Dixon said. "We simply didn't get the job done."
Dixon promised a more fundamental approach to the game tonight. Pitt won at Cincinnati despite losing the rebounding battle. Dixon said his team might have thought it could win again at Marquette in the same way.
Marquette grabbed 33 rebounds to Pitt's 24, and the Panthers never had a chance after the Golden Eagles broke open the game late in the first half.
"We're going to get back to what we do -- defending, rebounding and keeping people off the free-throw line," Dixon said.
Junior forward Lamar Patterson said the rebounding problems stemmed from a lack of hustle, stating Marquette "wanted it more."
Pitt had won seven of eight before the Marquette game and in that stretch the Panthers outrebounded their opponents by a wide margin. In all six of Pitt's losses this season the other team had an edge of five or more rebounds.
Pitt's starting frontcourt of Steven Adams and Talib Zanna accounted for 24 points and 11 rebounds in a victory at Cincinnati, but they combined for only eight points and eight rebounds against Marquette.
Pitt is at its best when that duo is active on the offensive end. Dixon indicated they have to be more aggressive and get to the free-throw line more when their shots are not falling.
"We had the ball around the basket, but didn't finish well enough early," Dixon said of the Marquette game. "We missed some shots we normally would finish. For whatever reason, we didn't. I don't know what that reason was. We have to get those two to the foul line and they only had two between them."
Adams will be challenged tonight by Notre Dame center Jack Cooley, who leads the Big East in rebounding and is the top scorer for the Irish. Cooley is one of the best offensive rebounders in Division I who gets a lot of his points on second chances.
Pitt has lost four consecutive games in the series against Notre Dame. A year ago at Notre Dame, Pitt lost by 13 and in 2010 the Irish won by 15.
The other two were lower-scoring games in which Brey ran his "burn" offense and frustrated the Panthers by bleeding the shot clock on every possession.
The Irish have not shown a tendency to do that this season, but Patterson said the Panthers will be ready in case Brey decides to go back to it.
"We have poised guys," Patterson said. "We just have to make smart decisions when we get the ball, take open shots and make them uncomfortable on offense. They can try to hold it as much as possible, but if we pressure them and speed them up a little bit that might be the key to winning."
First Published February 18, 2013 12:00 am