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March 10, 2007

Getting close to game time. I’m starting to sweat once more. Great.

9:11: Pitt down 6-2, 15:57 to halftime. Gray has missed three shots already.

9:21: No, not a great start. Still, only down 4.

9:37: Okay, now down 11. Gray shooting playing poorly. The whole team shooting poorly. Just 24-13 with 4:37 left.

9:47: Hibbert had his way with Gray and anyone else forced to go at him on offense. Otherwise, the G-town offense was it’s usual efficient self.

Just didn’t expect Pitt to just have no offense. Gray 0-9 and 1 point. 7-28 shooting overall. Shots are just not going down. Some of it is the G-town defense, but a lot of it is just not making the shots or taking the opportunities.

10:13: Gray now 0-10. On defense, he has let himself be abused by Hibbert. Either he is having his worst game ever, he is worn out physically in the 3d game in 3 days, or he’s got other things on his mind.

10:35: Don’t know what to say. Pitt is simply not hitting shots. I don’t think it’s fatigue. Just an absolutely pitiful shooting performance. When your best player doesn’t make a basket until halfway into the second half, it takes a toll. The rest of the team seemed to start press even more.

Pitt was able to overcome Gray as a non-factor for one game, but this was actually worse.

10:44: Credit Georgetown for their great energy and not stopping. They are still fighting and pushing Pitt.

10:55: Congratulations to Georgetown. They were the best team in the Big East this season and in the BET.

Pitt will have to wait for the seed tomorrow. I’m still thinking Pitt doesn’t do worse than a 3.

After that, Pitt has to be disappointed in the ending. It was a poor game. Still, they essentially have to forget it and get ready for the NCAA Tournament.

Sorry, didn’t mean to take this long to come back. So I’ll hit this quickly.
Kind of a strange comparison. There was this brief article that criticized Dixon for pulling Gray when he had two fouls early in the first half.

But more importantly, Gray’s elongated absence allowed Louisville to take control of the game. Soon after Gray went out, Dixon put now-center Levon Kendall on the bench for an early rest. At the time, Pitt had a 13-7 lead. When Kendall returned, Louisville center David Padgett had scored six points and Louisville had a cut the Pitt lead to one and was in the midst of a 12-1 run.

Pitt was also outrebounded 25-12 in the first half, and Louisville had 10 offensive rebounds.

Gray needed to play more in that first half, particular after Padgett and Derek Caracter picked up their second fouls. The Panthers wouldn’t have needed that 20-2 run to start the second half just to get back into the game.

Then there was this NY Post article lauding Dixon’s gamble on leaving Gray in the game in the second half when he picked up his 3d foul.

Diamond Jaime Dixon played the role of the gambling man. He rolled the dice. He put all of his chips in the middle of the table and doubled down.

He wasn’t removing his star center, Aaron Gray, who had just picked up a third foul early in the second half.

“I think most people generally go with the two-foul rule, but I’ve gotten away from [that],” said Dixon. “Everywhere I’ve been it was kind of that thinking, even with Ben. You know it’s the experience of the player. It’s the situation. Its just a feel.”

Diamond Jaime has the feel.

Just two minutes into the second half, Gray, who played just four minutes in the first, was whistled for a third foul. The Pittsburgh players turned to the bench, but Dixon just signaled the next play like a poker player saying, “Check.”

There’s a reason why coaches and players don’t like to listen to what pundits and writers are saying.

The NY Times credits all the “supporting” players on Pitt for the win.

This just in, Gray didn’t play well. But Kendall expects him to do quite well tonight.

‘He’s always been strong,” said Kendall, who had nine points and five rebounds. ”He often has his best games after a tough one. He’s mentally strong. He understand that if the bounces didn’t go his way, he didn’t get some calls, that that’s just how the game went. He’ll be ready to go, and it will be a good matchup between him and Hibbert.”

I’m sure his dad will have plenty of notes for him after last night’s game.

Although it should be noted that Mike has always felt that his son could be more aggressive. And that the Pitt coaches don’t disagree.

”They kind of yelled at me, because I’ve been a little too passive the last few games, especially in our losses,” Aaron said after the Marquette game.

Call it a hunch, but after the 0 rebound result from last night, I don’t see Gray getting 15 rebounds against G-town and Hibbert to break the Big East Tournament record for rebounds.

Kendall gets lauded for his intangibles.

Meanwhile Graves gets lauded for his second-half performance.

And of course the P-G and Trib recaps.

This is just an abbreviated early start. I have some morning offline duties before basketball all day. Back later.

Mike Ruth at the Card Chronicle has an excellent rundown — he doesn’t like Higgins and Burr either, so it isn’t just grumpy Pitt fans.

The sense from Louisville is that this was the Cards in the second half reverted to the way they had been playing before they showed up in Pittsburgh a month ago.

From the first dribble in the second half, this looked like the U of L basketball team we saw before it got the religion about sharing and protecting the basketball.

This looked like a perfect video for U of L coach Rick Pitino to show to his players for the rest of the weekend to prove to them that even though they won seven games in a row, they don’t have it all figured out.

Not when they kicked away an 11-point halftime lead against Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament semifinals in Madison Square Garden last night. Not when they started the second half by missing six of their first seven shots with five turnovers.

One thing all Louisville partisans agree is that this was a jarring reminder to the Cardinal players not to believe their press-clippings.

Well, Pitt is now in the Big East Championship game for the 6th time in seven years.

Some are blase about it: “It is the day before Selection Sunday and that can mean only one thing: Pittsburgh must be playing for the Big East championship at the Garden. It’s practically a rite of spring.”

Others snarky, ” The perennial bridesmaids and preseason No. 1 pick to win the conference, Pittsburgh will be playing for the conference title for the sixth time in seven years after it outlasted Louisville last night in the second semifinal at Madison Square Garden, 65-59.”

First off, Rick Pitino is a popular coach with the media because he can be blunt, funny and just entertaining. His post-game press conference after the game (PDF) was that. He did say that his team was tired and ran out of gas in the second half. He didn’t say it was just because of the Double-OT game (though that would be my guess, and not unreasonable).

He did come down on his team and players.

Q. Sosa out, talk about the way he played?

RICK PITINO: I didn’t think he was playing too well. That’s why I kept him out.

Q. What was he not doing?

RICK PITINO: He was not making other people better.

Q. I know that your focus is on your team, but when the opposing coach has a situation where his big guy gets a quick third foul and then a quick fourth foul and he leaves him in, how does that impact, if at all, any decisions you make?

RICK PITINO: Well, they did the smart thing, they put Kendall on our five-man and put Gray on our four-man. We still want to go strong to the glass and take it in. He’s been getting in foul trouble a lot and has to be careful on offensive rebounding to get inside position. I think they are getting used to playing without him because they have been, and tonight, if you say you shut out Fields and Gray and you lose, that’s just our inability to execute. We didn’t do a lot of things defensively, we didn’t force turnovers, we didn’t get deflections and create steals. When I see that, I see a tired basketball team a little bit and I don’t know if it’s tired physically but more emotionally. David wasn’t on top of his game, Sosa was not on top of his game and sometimes double overtime games do that to you.

But that’s no excuse. You have to give Pitt the credit for winning.

He also talked about how the team kept forgetting the scouting report and getting away from what they were supposed to do in the second half — that pretty much explains the continual timeouts in the early going in the second half.

Pitino was the only one to show up from Louisville in the postgame press conference. Pitt had Coach Dixon, Antonio Graves and Mike Cook.

I think Dixon has concluded Mike Cook can take it and needs to be publicly prodded at times. He is the only player I’ve ever heard or read Dixon come close to publicly challenge — something that he does not do or like to do.

JAMIE DIXON: Well, I was very excited about the win and happy for our guys and happy for the way we responded especially in the second half. Obviously being in an 11-point deficit, shows the character of our guys, especially the two guys here, impressed. I’m proud of Antonio and Mike, especially Antonio for knocking down and playing so well the last two days. Proud of him, he’s practiced hard and worked hard and is going to the gym late at night the last couple of weeks. And hard work pays off. And Mike is rebounding like we’ve been bugging him all year, so I’m proud of them for really stepping up.

[Emphasis added.]

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