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January 30, 2007

I’m going to have to conserve on the posting. Pitt’s off until WednDavesday. Good god is that going to be a crazy day. NLI day starting in the morning. Then the basketball team in Morgantown that night. Great. Just great. Well, at least they didn’t schedule Pitt to play on Superbowl Sunday again.

Aaron Gray made the cut-down for the Wooden Award. He has no chance at it, but it’s nice he made it another round.
David Aldridge has a story on Jamie Dixon and remembering his sister. Hey don’t forget, David’s brother was a Pitt player if you can remember Andre Aldridge.

Dave Jones at the Harrisburg Patriot is bummed that Villanova hasn’t proved itself yet, and envious about Pitt.

Last night’s 65-59 loss to No. 7 Pittsburgh at the Wachovia Center was another in a string of second-half fold jobs against key opponents that has to have ‘Nova fans wondering.

For Pitt, it was just another win in a game where they had substantial stretches of the uglies. You don’t often shoot 8-of-27 and commit 11 giveaways in the first half on the road and come out smelling this sweet.

Pittsburgh came out much steadier at the outset of the second half, got better shots and still fell back by eight.

“I sensed some frustration during a timeout there early in the second half,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “I said, we’re getting good shots, we’re doing the right things. I think we’re in good position to win.”

Sounds like a team that knows it’s going to win, one way or another.

The story is the same, since it is about Villanova making little mistakes. Actually, the only thing about the story worth seeing, is one of those good old predictable play on words headlines. “IT’S THE PITTS” Just good to see it not being applied by Pittsburgh papers.

In Philly, while conceding that ‘Nova let the game get away from them mid-way through the second half, what really hurt was Pitt making plays at the end while the Wildcats could not.

With the Wildcats trailing by 54-53 with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, the Villanova student section was urging the rest of the 18,017 fans to rattle the arena. They listened, bringing the decibel to a point louder than the Wachovia Center has heard at any professional sporting event in the building this season.

That’s when Pittsburgh guards Levance Fields and Antonio Graves became game-changers with gigantic three-pointers, surrounding two free throws by Sumpter.

Pittsburgh’s 7-footer Aaron Gray blocked a layup by Sumpter on Villanova’s next possession. Sumpter then fouled Graves, who sank both free throws for a seven-point lead.

“Timely mistakes on our part and timely shots on their part,” Villanova coach Jay Wright explained. “That was the difference.”

Graves (13 points) and Fields (20) accounted for all but 18 of the Panthers’ 42 second-half points, after they combined for only nine points in the first half.

“[Pittsburgh] just kicked it out and they hit huge shots,” Wright said.

After leading by as many as nine points, the Wildcats watched their lead slip away in a five-minute stretch in which they went 0 for 5 and turned the ball over six times. The Panthers (20-3, 8-1) took a 43-37 lead.

While Curtis Sumpter looked fully heeled from the deep bone bruise, Freshman PG Scottie Reynolds didn’t have any energy in the second half. He looked like he didn’t have his legs under him on some shots. There was a good reason.

For the first time in a long time, Reynolds, who had been so terrific, looked like a freshman. He repeatedly tried to force himself into the lane despite the presence of 7-footer Aaron Gray, and committed seven turnovers.

Part of it was legs. He had none. In the past four games, Reynolds played 155 of a possible 160 minutes, including 40 at Providence last Tuesday and 38 at Notre Dame on Saturday. Even for a 19-year-old, that’s a lot.

“It could have been [fatigue],” Wright said. “We tried to rotate the guards a little bit. Mike played 32 and Scottie 26; for those guys that’s like getting a break.”

During the game — especially in the first half — you could see Villanova trying to conserve the guards’ energy. Especially when it became apparent that they wouldn’t have it on the offensive side. There was a lot more switching off on Pitt’s perimeter players to keep from having to continually chase the guards all over the floor. It still took a toll and Reynolds was definitely looking slower and less controlled in the second half. Just like when you should go straight at the guy in foul trouble, you push against the fatigued player. Pitt was doing this.

A good thing about the game being in Philly, a relatively short train ride for the NY Daily News long time college basketball/Big East/NYC hoops writer, Dick Weiss. Usually, knowing his audience, he will pump the NYC connections. To him, the better back story and star was Antonio Graves.

When Graves was a senior at Mansfield (Ohio) High School, he was not highly recruited and seriously considered a postgraduate year at Notre Dame Academy near Boston. But Panthers coach Jamie Dixon, in desperate need of depth in the backcourt, called two days before school started and offered him a scholarship.

Graves gladly accepted and has been paying back Pitt ever since. Last night, he scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half to lead the seventh-ranked Panthers back from a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Villanova, 65-59, at the Wachovia Center.

“Mansfield is not what you’d call a mainstream school and it was hard to get noticed,” Graves said. “I’m not even sure my high school coach believed in me. But my family did. I had a couple of solid offers after prep school, but I didn’t want to settle for a mid-major. I thought I was better than that.”

Mansfield — like most of Ohio — is all about the football. Part of why he wasn’t highly recruited was because of his academics — a major reason why he was looking at prep school. He was a late academic qualifier. Graves also led Pitt with 7 assists (6 coming in the second half).

Since Gray grew up an hour or so away from Philly, the Allentown paper had a story that was forced to only partially focus on Gray.

Mostly, it was Fields and Graves dropping shots on Villanova from the outside and scoring off knifing drives inside. Both were helped by the fact Villanova had to pay so much attention to Gray, who was guarded by five different players and often double- and triple-teamed when he received a pass.

Gray finished with 14 points (on 6-for-7 shooting), 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. It was his 11th double-double of the season, coming before several family members and friends in attendance.

”Oh, it was great,” said Gray, the 7-foot senior from Emmaus High. ”People were calling me all week, trying to get tickets. Tickets were limited, so people went and bought tickets. Sometimes the cheers were just as loud for us as it was for Villanova.”

”This isn’t just a team of Aaron Gray,” Gray said. ”I have so many great players that surround me, and maybe they don’t get a lot of attention, but they definitely should. I would never undervalue them.”

Villanova Viewpoint has an excellent breakdown of the game. Well worth reading in full. Glad to have Dimitri blogging at full steam in the Big East part of the season.

In the P-G, I’m sorry this is a little disingenuous little meme.

Scroll down the Internet message boards or tune into talk radio and you’ll read and hear about how Pitt does not have a go-to player for clutch situations.

The armchair coaches could be right. The Panthers don’t have one guy who can carry the team to victory when it really matters. The have several.

Right, because it’s all driven by clueless fans. Not at all from sportswriters who know better. Not like that question wasn’t being asked in every preview mag.

Back to the story, great quote from Graves.

“Given the right situation, we all can step up and make the plays we make,” Graves said. “Coach [Jaime] Dixon does a great job of preparing us. And when preparation meets opportunity those are the results we get out of our team. All of our guys are great guys, can be starters on any team in the Big East or ACC. We have a collective mind that will do whatever it takes to win.

“It’s a beautiful thing. It gets me emotional when I think about it. I’ve never played for a team that does whatever it takes to win. It doesn’t have to be Aaron [Gray]. It doesn’t have to be Levance. It doesn’t have to be Mike [Cook] or me. We’re like a family. That’s one of the key aspects of our team this year.”

The win was also about making adjustments as a team and individually.

“We learned from our mistakes in the first half,” Graves said. “Once we get settled down and made the adjustments, things turned out the way they did.”

Villanova’s Curtis Sumpter scored a game-high 21 points, but he went 0 for 6 from the floor in the second half. Mike Nardi scored 10 points and Scottie Reynolds, the two-time reigning Big East freshman of the week, missed his first six shots and finished with eight points – and seven turnovers — under steady harassment from Graves.

“It was good for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We stayed in it with defense and won it with offense at the end.”

Villanova, playing at home for only the eighth time in 21 games this season, had a six-game winning streak snapped at Wachovia Center.

“It was timely mistakes on our part,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “and timely shots on their part.”

Philadelphia native Mike Cook (0 for 7), Sam Young (0 for 4) and Ronald Ramon (0 for 3) didn’t make a field goal, but contributed in other ways. Young had two big steals in the second half, Ramon made three free throws in the final 26 seconds, and Cook had four assists, including one that set up perhaps the game’s biggest basket – Graves’ 3-pointer with 1:46 to play after Villanova had cut the Pitt lead to 54-53.

I admit to being shocked that Young got back in there after the way he looked in the first half. Part of it was that Tyrell Biggs was abused for the minute plus he played (2 fouls).

These Are Heady Times

Filed under: Basketball,Numbers — Chas @ 10:14 am

Do I and all the other fans want more? You bet. Does every loss fill my mouth with ashes and doubts? Of course. Let’s take a moment though to enjoy some of this.
Last night was an important win for Pitt over Villanova. (more about the actual game in a later post) They are on a 9 day layoff, without having to dwell on a loss or missed opportunities.
In an 8-day, 4 game stretch with road and home alternating games, Pitt was 3-1

Pitt is now 4-0 in the Big East on the road and 8-1 overall, and in sole possession of 1st place. Whether the conference is down or not (and it is), that is still a great start. Pitt started the 03-04 season 8-1 in conference, to match the best ever start.

Pitt has already won 20 games this season — the first time a Pitt coach has ever won 20 games in 4 straight years.

The sixth straight year Pitt has won 20 or more game — an ongoing record. The first time, in this era that Pitt has done it with a solid non-con.
Pitt has spent the entire season ranked in the top-10.

We are watching a team that prefers to control and slow down the pace, but is capable of playing just fine at a faster pace. Able to make adjustments.

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