PITTSBURGH – To use a popular sports cliché, Monday was a big measuring stick game for both Pitt and UConn.
The Panthers were the fortunate ones, finishing far higher on the stick than the Huskies in a 78-63 win. Both Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and UConn coach Jim Calhoun were able to pinpoint one area of play that was especially glaring.
“The only thing we did well is we got to the offensive glass,” Calhoun said. “Our two big guys, Charles (Okwandu) and Alex (Oriakhi), got a combined – in 33 minutes – three rebounds defensively.”
Dixon echoed Calhoun’s comments from the opposite perspective.
“The only disappointing thing about tonight was getting outrebounded,” he said.
The rest was very positive for Pitt, which executed nearly every part of it’s game exactly how it had hoped.
UConn likes to push the floor offensively and score on the run. So Pitt slowed the UConn attack to the point that the shot clock ran under 10 seconds with regularity. The Huskies managed just six fast-break points.
Junior guard Kemba Walker has lit up opposing defenses, creating room for the rest of the UConn offense to operate. So Pitt used a trio of defenders – Ashton Gibbs, Travon Woodall and Brad Wanamaker – to limit Walker to just 10-of-27 shooting.
Sure, he scored 31 points. But the rest of the Huskies scored just 32.
Pitt needed a big performance from one of its shooters. So Ashton Gibbs scored 21 points, 10 of which came in the final 3:30 to hold of UConn’s final push.
The Panthers also needed the front court to play well against the Huskies’ duo of Okwandu and Oriakhi in the low post. So Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson each recorded double-doubles, combining for 22 points and 21 rebounds.
“It’s a great game for us to come in to the Big East opener, especially against a good team like UConn who has been playing great basketball,” Wanamaker said. “It shows where we’re at as a team and where we can improve.”
Apparently improvement is needed in just a few areas.
The Panthers struggled to protect the ball in the first half with 10 turnovers. That was quickly fixed, though, with just five the rest of the way.
That type of adjustment is an aspect of the team Dixon values.
“The thing I like about this team is we have focused on a couple things as the year’s gone on,” Dixon said. “Turnovers, there was a stretch there where we were turning it over. Since then our turnovers are way down – our average is way, way down. The transition defense (was a focus). The rebounding is something we’ve focused on from the beginning.”
All of those parts clicked in the game plan. With some more tweaking, the Panthers could climb a few notches higher on that measuring stick.
That’s exactly how Dixon feels.
“We’re getting there, but we’re not where we need to be,” he said. “There has been improvement.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog