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January 29, 2008

Pitt looks to bounce back after Rutgers loss

Several days removed from arguably the worst loss in the six-year history of the Petersen Events Center, Pitt redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown was succinct about the No. 18 Panthers' current state of mind on Monday.

"We just have to move on from that loss because we have more games."

At 16-4 overall, 4-3 in the Big East, and No. 19 in the RPI with 11 games left on the regular season schedule, the Panthers are looking at ways to answer the 13-point loss to Rutgers at home on Saturday, a loss that was not only notable for its scoring margin (tied for the most lopsided Pitt defeat in the building's history), but also for the disparity in the game's second half, when Pitt gave up a lead to the Scarlet Knights, a team that was previously regarded as the conference's worst.

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said Monday that the team has come to an understanding on the topic of how to avoid similar results in the future.

"We understand we had a disappointing loss on Saturday where we didn't play well and we managed to lose a nine-point lead with 12 minutes left and just didn't do anything right the last 12 minutes. We understand that we've got to do things right for all 40 minutes. We understand that we've got to win with our rebounding and defense.

"You learn from every game, but you probably learn more from losses, and that's how we look at it."

In that case, the lessons from the loss to Rutgers tend toward the areas Dixon mentioned: defense and rebounding. Long considered the hallmarks of Dixon-coached Pitt teams, the Panthers failed at both defense and rebounding in the second half against the Scarlet Knights. To wit, Rutgers out-rebounded Pitt 29-13 in the final period, and the Scarlet Knights shot 55.2% in the second half, while the Panthers hit just 29.4% of their shots.

But while Pitt players and coaches certainly weren't pleased with the team's shooting percentage in the second half, they were far more disconcerted about Rutgers' high percentage. Even more troubling is the fact that a slight trend is forming, as Pitt's last four opponents (Georgetown, Cincinnati, St. John's, and Rutgers) have all shot 44% or better.

"Defensively, we have to be there every single game, starting from now," senior guard Ronald Ramon shot. "Offensively, we're going to have off-nights, but we can't get away from our defense."

According to Ramon, getting away from the defense is exactly what the Panthers have been doing recently.

"A lot of times, we talk about our defense being good and making sure we're there for each other; I think in the last few games we weren't. [Opponents] were hitting shots and they were open shots; we weren't in the gaps, we weren't helping each other. It was one-on-one defense, and that's what teams were able to do: spread us out and get to the basket. We have to get back to being in the gaps and making sure it's a team defense."

In addition to communication, the other major tenet of defense, as with rebounding, is effort; therefore, it's no surprise what Ramon cited as the main factor missing in the Rutgers loss.

"I think it was the effort: we didn't give it enough effort and we can't live with that," Ramon said. "We can lose games, and if we give everything on the court, we can live with it. But the last game, it wasn't: we went out there, we gave up on defense, we weren't playing as hard as we could, and we got away from the things we said we were going to do on the court."

The only other time Pitt lost by as many as 13 points at the Petersen Events Center was last season when Louisville walked out of Pittsburgh with a 66-53 victory. The Panthers responded with a victory five days later when they hosted Washington, and they'll be looking to do the same Wednesday night when they host Villanova for a rematch of the two teams' January 6th contest. In that game, the Wildcats slid out a 64-63 victory. Now Pitt has a chance to avenge that loss and get back to the team's winning ways at home.

"I felt like we should have won the first game, so it's definitely a good feeling to come out and play them again," Brown said.






Chris Peak can be contacted at chrispeak1@comcast.net



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