Pitt's game plan for Adams flourishing
Pitt freshman big man Steven Adams has begun to come into his own for the Panthers offensively and defensively.
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In the weeks leading up to the start of the season, Pitt players were talking about a return to inside-out basketball starring freshman center Steven Adams, a much-balleyhooed recruit from New Zealand. They believed the presence of a 7-footer in the post, with scoring and passing ability, was going to bring the team back to contender status.
Then the season began. Adams was not contributing much to the offense and some wondered if the hype surrounding him was overblown.
But in recent weeks, as Adams has developed with a series of confidence-building games, Pitt's preseason plans are coming to fruition in midseason.
Adams delivered a strong performance in a 62-52 victory at Cincinnati in which he was a focal point of the offense. He was 5 for 6 from the field and scored 13 points for his first double-figure scoring game in Big East Conference play.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon showed confidence in his young center by going to him early in the second half when Pitt trailed. Adams delivered with three baskets -- the only three for the team in the first nine minutes after halftime -- before Tray Woodall and others delivered late to seal the victory.
"Steve is starting to show what he is really all about," junior forward Lamar Patterson said. "Everyone has heard of what he can do, but now he's starting to show it. He's one of the most talented big men, I think, in the country. That's a big statement for a freshman, but we're starting to see the real Steve Adams now."
Pitt had played without a legitimate low-post scoring threat since DeJuan Blair left for the NBA in 2009. The Panthers were good enough to win a Big East championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2011, but Dixon wanted to return to the formula that worked so well when Blair, Aaron Gray and Chris Taft manned the middle for him early in his tenure.
"This is the first game we saw the results," Dixon said. "We've been emphasizing it, trying to get better in that area."
It was the first time Adams reached double figures since scoring 10 Dec. 19 against Delaware State, but this breakthrough game had been in the works. In the past six games, he is 22 for 36 from the field and averaging 9 points per outing.
"He's more patient," Patterson said. "He's not as sporadic as when he first came in. That comes with being a freshman. As long as he keeps improving, we expect him to do big things."
Dixon said the secret to Adam's success has been getting him in positions where he is comfortable catching the ball. Adams did not play with his back to the basket much when he was growing up in New Zealand, and it took him some time to develop a low-post repertoire.
"He's getting better on the left side," Dixon said. "That's the side we want to get it to him. They were not helping down at all. We haven't played many teams that don't do that. They were digging down more the first [Big East] game we played [Dec. 31]. We worked a lot on our spacing in recent weeks. We've been able to get to Talib [Zanna] a lot and Steve a lot. That was a big part of it."
Woodall sees poise in Pitt's young center where before there was uncertainty.
"He was being patient," said Woodall, a senior guard. "We double-team him every day in practice. The one-on-one matchups are easy for him. He's getting more comfortable, you can tell."
No. 23 Pitt (20-5, 8-4) has won seven of its past eight and the Cincinnati game was the first time either of the Panthers' starters in the frontcourt scored in double figures in that stretch.
Zanna, a 6-9 starting power forward, made some big offensive contributions against the Bearcats, too. He scored 11 points and pulled down nine rebounds for his first double-figure scoring game since Jan. 8.
How Zanna got to double figures is the perfect example of how Pitt would like to play on offense. With 1:35 remaining and Pitt clinging to a three-point lead, Pitt threw the ball into Adams. Cincinnati lost track of Zanna, who cut to the basket and received a pass for a wide-open dunk that put the game out of reach.
If Adams and Zanna can continue to provide scoring in the post, Patterson believes the Panthers are going to be tough to beat.
"We'll be a team to watch," Patterson said. "With Steve and Talib down low dominating like that, it makes it so much easier for us guards on the perimeter. They have to double them and it leaves people open. They can pass, too. We have to take advantage of our two forces down low."
First Published February 11, 2013 12:00 am