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February 18, 2007

Tommie Campbell — the only returning starting linebacker for Pitt — has been suspended indefinitely. According to Dokish, he could be done for good. The obvious cliche, is that this is a developing situation. Speculation can continue to run rampant.
I don’t have any knowledge as to why or what. The reasonable deduction with the suspension coming in the off-season is either relating to academics or to the off-season conditioning program. These days, that’s the good news — since there are no police blotter reports at this time.
I’m leaning towards the off-season conditioning  issue at the moment — just on gut. Not that Coach Wannstedt would slack on the academic side, but I’m not sure he would suspend him like this for that sort of issue. An indefinite suspension this vague suggests more that Campbell took less than an eager approach to workouts and conditioning. As much as Wannstedt is a postive, “players” coach who won’t publicly speak ill of any of the players; he does expect it to go both ways and know they are willing to give as much back to the team.

So, how’s Aaron Gray? That’s the question locally.

“I thought it was pretty bad,” Dixon said afterward. “He’s had ankle problems in the past. But he went down pretty bad on this one. I think this one could be worse [than the other sprains] from what I saw. I hope I’m wrong.”

Gray limped off the court after the injury and did not return in the final 10 seconds. He gingerly made his way to the locker room and will be re-evaluated today before determining whether he can play in the game at Seton Hall tomorrow night.

It was unclear during the game about what happened. The announcing and camera focus made it seem more like he took a nasty bruise to the shin, cutting it a little and leaving a knot. Given that it was under 12 seconds left, taking him out for the rest of the game seemed reasonable regardless of the severity.

Of course, it seems with Pitt, any loss seems to herald the sky is falling. Last year a desperate Seton Hall team contributed to that storyline by upsetting Pitt at the Pete, as Pitt lost 3 of its last 4 before the Big East Tournament (of course that included losing at Marquette and WVU). Pitt is only 3-3 versus the Hall the last 6 meetings (PDF, p. 12) — so there can be no taking Seton Hall lightly.

In the cup half-full, view Pitt did not lose despite not shooting particularly well and not rebounding. They found a way to push through for the win.

Pitt (23-4) held on for a 65-61 victory over Washington to scrub out some of the bitter aftertaste of its humbling loss to Louisville.

“After how we lost on Monday,” Levance Fields said, “we were definitely looking forward to this game.”

Whether it was a Sam Young layup off a Mike Cook assist, a Ronald Ramon running jumper, a Levance Fields 3-pointer or a Gray bucket, Pitt repelled every Washington advance during the pivotal second-half stretch.

“We made some very good decisions at the end of the game,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was a great win for us.”

Cook broke out of his three-week scoring slump with a game-high 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

Fields scored 14 points, going 8 for 8 from the line, and added four assists. Ramon (11) and Sam Young (10) each came off the bench to score in double figures.

Let me say something now. This is the final season to talk of how a game goes back to the “Ben Howland era.” I’m beyond tired of it now. Gray and Kendall are the only recruits left on this Pitt team that were signed when Howland was the HC.

This isn’t to rip on Howland or denigrate any of those teams that mean a hell of a lot to me. But,there is this twisted feeling about how the present team needs to play like the team under Howland with Brandin Knight, Jaron Brown and Julius Page — players recruited by Ralph Willard — while at the same time talking of how Pitt needs higher calibar, elite players.

It’s just, even when intended as a compliment, there is no winning that comparison.

Mike Cook was vital for the Pitt win. He had been in a bit of a slump. Seems slightly exaggerated for the length, but it has been a couple weeks  since his last good game. Even so, it seems Coach Dixon expects more.

It was bad enough for Cook having to look Dixon, Gray, Fields and the others in the face after his 1-for-7 shooting night at West Virginia and his 0-for-7, zero-point night at Villanova.

But those darn cell phone calls …

“My family and friends would call and ask, ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t you playing better?’ ” Cook said.

You might guess the next line.

“I’m looking forward to those calls tonight,” Cook said, grinning.

..

“When you’re not shooting well, it’s going to affect you no matter how confident a player you are,” Cook said. “It really took its toll on me. I just tried to stay aggressive. Everybody kept telling me the shots would start to fall.”

Surprisingly, Dixon wasn’t effusive when asked about Cook. Maybe it was all those things that Pitt didn’t do well, including its 4-of-15 shooting from 3-point range and Washington’s 42-32 rebounding advantage. Or maybe it was Gray’s situation. More likely, though, it was that he realizes how much ability Cook has and he expects so much more from him.

“We need more rebounding from that spot,” Dixon said. “He had four offensive rebounds, which is good. But he had no defensive rebounds. We need to improve in that area.”

I know that there’s a lot of complaints that Dixon doesn’t publicly rip his players more — but that’s never been his style. He’s not needed to, generally, because I think it has as much to do with knowing his players and whether they need or respond to public challenges. No matter the pressure, these are still kids, not professional players. It appears, that maybe he’s determined that Cook responds best when the challenge is made known to all.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that there is some grousing about the disparity over the foul shooting — Pitt had 25 FTAs to Washington’s 8.

Two of the three officials were from the Big East, including the head referee, so that can be safely called a Big East crew (no one seemed to know where the third official was from). UW coach Lorenzo Romar tried to be tactful afterward when asked about the officiating and UW’s 25-8 disadvantage at the free throw line, but assistant Cameron Dollar was a little more forthcoming.

“Twenty five to eight and we’re going inside every time,” Dollar said. “But that’s what happens on the road.”

As for my thoughts on the officiating against Pitt, I wouldn’t say the Huskies lost the game because of it if only because I’m not one of those to ever blame anything solely on the refs — officiating is so much a matter of perspective, and I think that if it’s looked at with an objective eye it usually turns out to have been pretty even.

But the free throw disparity is worth pointing out in a game where the Huskies were the ones going inside all the time while Pitt was the team doing more from the perimeter. That said, UW’s guards got beat a lot off the dribble, which is what led to a lot of the fouls. Quincy Pondexter picked up four fouls in 17 minutes, for instance, largely because he had trouble keeping his man in front of him. I was just passing along that there were some who thought it odd that Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes shot a combined two free throws despite taking a combined 29 shots from the field (both free throws by Brockman).

As for what crews work games, it’s usually decided upon at the time of scheduling. Given that a Big East crew worked this game, I’m sure that means a Pac-10 crew will work the game when Pitt comes to Seattle next Dec. 8.

I understand, and if the positions were reversed, I’m sure we’d be a bit pissed. In defense of the  way the game was called, the refs let the players inside bang, rake and push. If you look at the box score, the inside players for both teams got many calls. It came down to guards getting checked and fouled penetrating and going to the hoop.
You know, I realize that some of these stories are played out for Pitt fans. Stories talking about Jamie and Maggie Dixon  — fairly or unfairly — almost become especially anything regarding Levon Kendall. That said, he is something approaching a local kid for Washington State coming from Vancouver.

Pittsburgh pays a return visit to Seattle next season, but that will be too late for Kendall.

“Yeah, I was pretty disappointed,” he said. “I was ragging on my coaches, ‘Thanks a lot, guys. You book a home-and-away with the closest school in the States to Vancouver and you guys had to book the home section while I was still here.

“It would have been really nice to play close to home, especially in my senior year.’”

Considering how “homecomings” have worked out for NYC area players and Cook in Philly — well, let’s just not discuss the possibilities.

Some perspective for Washington — and it tells you how disappointing a season it has been for the Huskies — there’s some looking at the bright side.

For the first time this season, they went against a ranked team in a big-time road environment and didn’t blink.

They went into a citadel of physical Big East Conference basketball and didn’t back down.

However, the result also reminded them of home: a 65-61 loss to No. 7 Pittsburgh – the exact same score as their Wednesday home loss to No. 10 Washington State.

“We haven’t done very well on the road this year, but (Saturday) I thought maybe we turned the corner,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We didn’t win the game, but I was proud of how our guys approached the game.”

The mileage was important and oft-repeated.

Twenty-five hundred miles from home, the Washington Huskies might finally have found themselves.

Officially, it was another road loss as the Huskies bowed to No. 7-rated Pittsburgh on Saturday at the Petersen Events Center, 65-61, their eighth road defeat in nine games this season.

But unlike a 30-point massacre just two weeks ago at Arizona or similar blowouts at Washington State, UCLA and Gonzaga, this one came down to a missed shot here, a bad bounce there.

“Hopefully we turned a corner today,” said UW coach Lorenzo Romar. “I don’t think three weeks ago we would have been able to do what we did today. We talk about the hopeful maturation of our team and even in spite of our loss last game against Washington State, I just think we are becoming a better and better basketball team. A few years ago [in February of 2004] we went to North Carolina State and it was a similar game to this [a 77-72 loss]. We came up short but you could just see that this team is starting to jell.”

Lorenzo Romar, like Jamie Dixon of Pitt is a positive, not saying a negative word about his players to the media kind of coach.

This didn’t really come through on the telecast, but interesting.

Gray wasn’t around for interviews afterward, having suffered a sprained ankle late in the game when he fell awkwardly after colliding with Jon Brockman while battling for a rebound.

Brockman was booed loudly and admitted that, “It might have looked like I threw him down. But he landed on my ankle [which caused him to fall].”

Gray could miss a game or two, though teammates said they were hopeful he would be back quickly.

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon applauded Brockman afterward for coming over to the Pitt bench to check on Gray.

“He’s a class kid,” Dixon said. “That’s a class program.”

Not that there wasn’t some trash-talking. Adrian Oliver and Mike Cook got into it.

Oliver showed that edge when he got into a brief staredown with Pitt’s Mike Cook late in the first half after being called for a foul while going after a rebound.

“He said something to me so I said something back to him,” Oliver said. “I think he was surprised. I think he thought we would just back down. Like this is the Big East and we would just back down. I was showing him we weren’t going to back down.”

Heh. No, that was something Cook likes to do and hasn’t done enough lately. Getting into it with another player, tends to motivate him. So, let’s just say thank you to Oliver.

First, the Gray injury needs to be addressed.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has watched Aaron Gray turn his ankle many times the past four seasons in practice. But, when his star center went down in a heap late in a 65-61 victory against Washington yesterday after grabbing a game-clinching rebound, Dixon made a beeline to the baseline to check on his hobbled 7-footer.

“I thought it was pretty bad,” Dixon said afterward. “He’s had ankle problems in the past. But he went down pretty bad on this one. I think this one could be worse [than the other sprains] from what I saw. I hope I’m wrong.”

Gray limped off the court after the injury and did not return in the final 10 seconds. He gingerly made his way to the locker room and will be re-evaluated today before determining whether he can play in the game at Seton Hall tomorrow night.

Well he seemed to walk over to the bench pretty well under his own power and when he sat down there were no trainers hurrying over to see him. I am in no way a doctor (at least not a medical doctor) so I could be completely off base with this — I just don’t feel too concerned about it right now.

Especially if he was to miss the Seton Hall game tomorrow. Not exactly the worst game to lose him for.

Looking back at the actual game though, Pitt did not play a stellar game (for the second time in a row) but this time managed to pull out the win. Washington did a good job from deep and they were able to keep the game close by shooting 7-11 from three point range.

In comparision, our outside shooting was less than stellar. We were 4 of 15 from 3-point range which puts them at 7 for 36 from behind the arc in the past two games.

Looking inside at the big men, Gray was only able to add 5 points as the combo of Hawes and Gray each neutralized one another. The 20 NBA scouts there didn’t see a ton of scoring from the two but saw them going at it all game.

A recurring theme with this Pitt team is someone new stepping up each game and yesterday it was Mike Cook coming through with 15 points. Ramon (11) and Sam Young (10) each came off the bench to score in double figures.

Gathering what I could from a Washington blog, it seems the mood there is mixed.

The Huskies received their second tough loss in as many games today. I really feel the Huskies were the better team in both of those games.

After reading the comments on the game, I thought I would respond. John Brockman was in foul trouble for most of the game. I think that hampered is ability to play physical basketball. He had some great, aggressive moves early on. He played timid for the majority of the second half in my opinion. Quincy Pondexter also was in foul trouble. His ability to help this team is nowhere to be found. He looks like a natural one play and the next he throws the ball out of bounds or goes to the hoop out of control. It is amazing how unpolished this freshman group is. Take away Hawes and this groups freshman year is an absolute bust.

Seems pretty happy with how the game went; not so much with how some of the players look right now.

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