Ron Cook: Gray has been coming up short for Panthers
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So what's your preference?
Are you a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person?
Are you concerned that Pitt's Aaron Gray -- the Big East Conference's preseason player of the year -- had just seven points in the 69-48 win against South Florida yesterday? That he has gone four consecutive games without scoring in double figures, by far the worst offensive slump of his career?
Or do you only care that Pitt put on another good show at the Petersen Events Center, where it almost always gives fans a bang for their sporting dollars? That this latest blowout win could move the No. 10 Panthers up a spot or two when the national rankings come out today?
While you consider your position, take a moment and check out what the ultimate half-full guy -- Pitt coach Jamie Dixon -- had to say on the matter.
"We won all four of the games you're talking about. By decided margins, too."
It's true. Pitt did not need Gray's offense to beat South Florida, Syracuse, Florida A&M and Dayton. It won the four games by an average of 21 points.
Dixon's assertion that Pitt's offense still "goes through Aaron" also is correct. Many times down the floor, the Panthers first look inside to Gray, who, if he feels pressure from a collapsing zone defense or a double team, as he often does these days, will get the ball back outside to an open man or to a teammate who then finds the open man. It worked well enough yesterday that Pitt made 10 of 16 3-point shots, worked well enough at Syracuse Thursday night that it made 9 of 22 3s, worked well enough against Florida A&M Dec. 30 that it made 13 of 31 3s.
"I see our guys so wide open and I'm thinking, 'Wow! They're willing to give that up to stop me,' " Gray said. "The more teams try to take me away, the more they're going to see what kind of team we have. It's going to create opportunities for the other guys to score. I think that makes us a better offense even if it means a little personal sacrifice by me ...
"We can make teams pay when they play us that way. We've got a lot of good players. It's not about one or two guys. I think we had one double-figure scorer today" -- guard Levance Fields with 11 points -- "and we still won by 20-some points."
All of it is true.
But so is this:
Pitt's outside shots aren't always going to fall so frequently. The time will come when it needs Gray to make more of his high-percentage shots inside.
How did Fields put it the other night at Syracuse?
"A.G. is still our go-to guy."
This also is legit:
Pitt's competition is about to improve dramatically. Maybe it won't happen so much when it plays at DePaul Wednesday night, but it certainly will when it plays Georgetown, Connecticut and Marquette in a three-game homestand that begins Saturday night. Those teams are capable of lining up and playing Gray man-to-man and covering Pitt's perimeter players. It's fair to believe the Panthers will need Gray's offense to win.
"Absolutely," Gray said, nodding. "The big thing is we're winning, but I know I have to be more consistent. I have to do my part. I think I bring a lot to the table for this team. I just have to show it."
Wednesday night at DePaul would be a nice time to start.
Gray needs to get back to being the offensive force he was earlier in the season when he had eight double-double games in Pitt's first 12 games. Those numbers look a whole lot better than his point totals from the past four games when he played decidedly small for a 7-footer: 7, 9, 5 and 5. He made just 10 of his 26 shots in those games, a huge comedown from the 65 percent he shot in the first 12 games.
Foul trouble was as much of a problem for Gray yesterday as the South Florida defense. He sat out the final 2:09 of the first half after getting his second foul, then picked up his third just 13 seconds into the second half. He returned later to play a little more than two minutes, then sat again after getting his fourth foul.
At that point, it seemed as if Gray's work would be done for the day. Pitt had the game well in hand. But Dixon put Gray back in with 7:35 left and Pitt leading, 53-33. It appeared as if Dixon wanted to give him one more chance to do something positive so he could feel good about himself. But Gray missed the only shot he took after that -- a layup -- to finish his 2-for-7 day. If there was something for him to feel good about -- aside from the win -- it was the adverse impact he had on the South Florida offense with his four blocked shots.
"I'm struggling a little bit, but I'm going to keep working to improve," Gray said. "I need to work harder for position. I need to get the ball closer to the hoop. ...
"I'm going to play better than I am right now. I have to. I know have to carry my weight for this team."
The man weighs 270 pounds.
Literally and figuratively, that's a lot of weight to carry.
First Published January 8, 2007 12:00 am