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March 24, 2007

I’m coming back slowly. Actually, it feels like withdrawal at the moment. Not just with the end to Pitt’s season, but the entire Saturday of nothing until nearly 5 pm. Since September, there hasn’t been a Saturday with me either at a college game or planted in front of a TV watching college football or basketball all day. Now, nothing. I mean, I seriously debated putting on one of the women’s games. Instead, I just drifted around the house making half-hearted efforts at some of the house chores. This is going to take some getting used to.

Well, I’ll talk a little bit about the game. Gene Collier’s column on Friday about summed it up.

No, the painful part of this for Pitt was that these Bruins were virtually dying to get beat, and Pitt simply refused. Rejected the death wish Ben Howland’s team expressed with shrieking clarity in the opening moments of the second half by going nearly six minutes without a field goal.

Pitt’s response? A morbid little blizzard of missed shots, most no longer than the length of Aaron Gray, who missed a bunch of ’em along with Mike Cook and Sam Young.

“A couple of those layups and easy shots go down, the momentum probably shifts right there,” said sophomore Levance Fields. “When we started missing those chip-away layups, eventually they’re going to get the rebounds and then we’re frustrated and start fouling, so they convert the foul shots and just hold us off.”

Pitt never led on the night its season ended at 29-8, never had so much as the sense that it might at long last venture to the prohibited Elite Eight and still never looked very much different from a UCLA team that’ll meet Kansas tomorrow afternoon for a ticket to Atlanta and the Final Four.

It was part of what was so frustrating. Pitt was never out of it. No matter when Pitt was down by 12 in the second half. Scoring was coming so haltingly for both teams, just one little flurry…

Instead, Pitt never found its shot. The whole team struggled and as the game went longer, you could see them press and be more frustrated at the miss. Knowing they weren’t far. But never getting close enough.

Credit has to be given to UCLA’s defense. No matter how much we may wish otherwise. They did a great job of hounding the guards and not letting them get too many open looks. They were exceptional at irritating Gray inside and being well positioned. Even on some of the seemingly easy lay-ins, they were at least there trying and possibly distracting the Pitt players. It was a fair point from Nestor at Bruins Nation.

As usual after watching a classic defensive Ben Ball game, lot of us are seeing the same type of comments from Pitt fans and players about how it was a matter of them not finishing their shots or failing to make layups, like we have heard from opposing fans and players throughout last two years. Once again some of our opponent’s fans are having a hard time accepting the fact that it was the focused, fundamental defensive effort put forth by our team, that resulted in total disruption in the rhythm of Pitt’s offense leading them to take harried shots, and keeping them from executing in offense in general.

Yes and no. I accept it to a point, and as he observes it isn’t the most uncommon lament after playing UCLA. Plus, there is simply the scoreboard and that is the final arbiter — and the winners write the history. That said, the number of open misses starting early in the game was not simply the stingy defense of UCLA. It’s not like Pitt hasn’t shot this way before, even this season.

It’s never all from one team. It’s nice to think so, and I’ve read plenty of it in the comments this year (and almost certainly written it myself plenty of times). When Pitt wins, it’s because of what Pitt did on both sides of the ball. When Pitt loses it’s because of the mistakes made by the players and/or the coach. We rarely credit the other side for what they did or didn’t do because it is all about our team.
Antonio Graves seemed especially crushed with the loss. He tried to be positive, but it seemed he was feeling too upset about not getting past UCLA — about letting the fans and everyone down.

“It’s been a great year,” said the senior guard. “We accomplished a lot of things, but to me, that gets old after a little bit. We have to be able to win the big games. I hope in the future Pitt can win the big games.”

I hope no one ever doubted how much the players wanted to win. You know they wanted to be the ones to bust through at Pitt. Antonio Graves is a great story for Pitt. Another player who worked so hard on and off the court and became the key defender this season.

Part of what has me bummed out about this is knowing some fans that will never forgive Graves, Gray and Kendall for not winning this game. For not winning enough. Everything else gets erased and they become permanent bums. They will hope for Gray’s failure in the NBA as further proof of how bad he was.

I’m disappointed, frustrated and I’ve been upset for the last couple days.

Still, they are Pitt players and they are or will be graduates of the University of Pittsburgh. The way they have played, represented the team and the school these last years have been things to be proud.  They have provided plenty of good memories and moments.

Man, I hate having to be the positive one.





It stands to reason that Graves seemed “especially crushed” by this loss. From my perspective he and Ramon are the only two players on this team that have the “eye of the tiger” approach. Fields and Young will get there, hopefully next year. Cook, in my opinon, is an immature BB player, and he is still pretty good. He lacks focus and discipline. I think that he is about 75% as good as he could be if he would leave the playground behind when he gets on the court. Gray and Kendall just don’t have the personalities to be “eye of the tiger” types. Still, both will be sorely missed next year. For every layup Gray missed, he stopped 2 or 3 from ever being taken by our opponent, just by being there. Kendall, I really feel was out of position for all of his time at Pitt. He would have been a very good center, not better than Gray, but effective, with less of requirement to shoot from the outside and handle the ball. As for Nestor’s assertion that their defense was the MAIN reason for our craptacular night of shooting, I’ll accept that if he accetps the fact that their less than stellar play from the floor was mainly due to our defense.

Comment by HbgFrank 03.24.07 @ 4:00 pm

haha, that’s very funny about trying to force positivity. I actually came to the site just to say that UCLA is the kind of team that EVERY team that plays them says they should have beaten and then saw what you posted. However, UCLA did not play well. That night, we should have beaten them.

For the record, although Kendall stunk it up the whole season, I actually thought Gray played pretty well against UCLA and will remember him fondly. We started going away from him in the second half and it didn’t seem like there was a cohesive scheme in place to deal with the double and triple teams.

Comment by J-Maile 03.24.07 @ 4:09 pm

A Little Late Rambling Thoughts On Pitt-UCLA and Otherwise…

Trackback by University Update 03.24.07 @ 4:19 pm

ok time to move on..what going on with football?

Comment by scoocher 03.24.07 @ 5:16 pm

Chas,

I think the reason why many of us have trouble letting go of this dissappointment has a lot to do with the kids the comprised this team.

People are lashing out at Kendall and Gray, but everyone should remember the type of team this was that played against Pacific…the questions of the attitude’s of Taft, Troutman and yes even Krauser.

I think these kids were a real good bunch and they embraced the unselfish “team” concept. I think we were all convinced prior to the beginning of this season that they were at least a top 10 team if not better.

In the end they played as hard as they could. I don’t deny them that. But I too thought they could do more and its hard to say goodbye to a good group of guys like this team.

We all wanted more and I believe that is why it still bothers me 2+ days later.

thanks,
DaveD

They embraced the team concept, they were

Comment by DaveD 03.24.07 @ 6:44 pm

Have to second the thoughts of DaveD. Pitt fans have no idea what this team will be like without Gray and Kendall. UCLA was beatable but PITT just had nothing go there way- credit howland with a new set which got Affalo and Shipp a few open threes. Anybody see a new look from Dixon? The LA set with the double screen/ closing wall on the foul line was just a little highschool wrinkle..and we had no idea it would get LA some open 3’s

Comment by slikk 03.24.07 @ 9:10 pm

UCLA crushes KS…now what does everyone think??

Comment by Dan 72 03.24.07 @ 9:38 pm

pitt got beat by a better team 1 lets move on.

Comment by alco fan 03.24.07 @ 9:42 pm

schenley wins rtate championship. Lets welcome mr. Blair to Pitt.

Comment by alco fan 03.24.07 @ 9:58 pm

You know if you were a reasonable person and you saw both regional finals today, you would come to the rational assumption that most of the players who played in those game were talented, athletically gifted college basketball players.

How do the players on this team match up to them?
They don’t plain and simple.

People who honestly expected or better yet believed this team would go beyond the Sweet 16 this year were deluded. What did they base this belief on, preseason hype, rankings, BE projections?

I have been amazed at all of these believers who when the team could not do what they were supposed to would talk them, the coach, and the program down, when in reality they did the best they could do.

I said it before and say it again you cannot fit square pegs into a round hole. You get the squares to the hole but they cannot get through the hole. Likewise, you cannot get good recurits who are athletically limited to be good recruits who are athletically gifted. Like I mentioned did you see the 2 regional finals today? Great, athletically, gifted, players were on display.

This year’s squad and the recent success run’s squads would not have had a chance in those games, let alone tomorrow’s games.

Pitt just needs recurits and I belive they will come. It takes time. 6 year’s of relative success does not make a BB dynasty.

Howland is doing pretty good at UCLA rigtht. Same system but better results, why? Did you watch the game against KU, bet you thought at the beginning that the Jayhawks would be winning at the end. Well they did not because Ben runs the same system he did at Pitt but he had the great, athletically, gifted, players to win the game.

It would be a safe bet to say that if Dixon had great, athletically, gifted, players he would break the 16 barrier irrsepective of what the JD haters say.

Comment by Kenny 03.24.07 @ 10:06 pm

Yes, let’s welcome mr Blair. didn’t finish his shots in close and missed his free throws. perfect!

Comment by TMGPanther 03.24.07 @ 10:10 pm

I agree, let’s turn to football. The football program seems to be at an opposite point as the hoops program … a number of good recruits but predicted to be awful. The newspaper articles sound so much like every other year, just fill in the blanks “_________ is hurt so we had to shuffle 10 different players around because we have no depth;” “__________ has no experience and has never made a tackle in a game but he has to come through for us because we have nothing at that position” … “___________” is our top recruit but turned out to be worthless and we don’t know what to do with him;” “__________ had tremendous potential but he came down with a freaky ailment that .0000000001% of the population gets (and never a Nit).” etc. etc. reading the spring football articles makes the UCLA loss like a Super Bowl victory in comparison.

Comment by geeman2001 03.24.07 @ 10:28 pm

I saw a interesting stat after UCLA beat Kansas: of the 33 layups/dunks attempted by the Jayhawks only 14 went in. For all the whining by us Pitt fans, Kansas was worse than Pitt despite being more athletic. I think that shows that UCLA’s defense may be better than we’ve given credit. At this point, I want UCLA to win the whole thing. I’d take some solace in knowing we lost to the champs.

Comment by ME2001 03.24.07 @ 10:55 pm

I don’t think its fair to say if Dixon had the same players he would do as well as Howland. Howland has had many years making the decisions and learning from mistakes at SDSU, ASU, PITT and UCLA. Dixon, while being a great coach, has still to work on his weaknesses and build on the strengths he has. I was happy to see Jamie take on a more experienced coach on his stafff. I think the benefits of hearing honest feedback from his guys and seeing how it all wrapped up will give make him a better coach.

This may sound oversimplistic and naive but somehow if we had another Brandin Knight out there on the floor. I know we would have gotten it done..been watching PITT for a long time and in the post season, there has been no one in his class for a long time..

Comment by slikk 03.25.07 @ 1:04 am

slikk loved knight maybe my favorite pitt player all-time, any sport.

also, howland coached at northern az not asu-big difference.

Comment by scoocher 03.25.07 @ 1:17 am

your right.. my typo..

Comment by slikk 03.25.07 @ 1:35 am

looks like Pitt is not the only team that misses layups against UCLA! How many shots did Kansas miss from hand-shaking range last nite? and some were uncontested! UCLA has the athletes to play that tough man to man D–still think that we are a step slow, and should experiment with a match up zone.

Comment by tph60 03.25.07 @ 8:40 am

Watched Blair last night, nice big player.Can shoot foul shots,did get a technical for smartmouthing the ref.Was a man amoung boys. Also seen Nasir play. Still young as a junior didnt do much against Blair made a couple of nice shots and seemed like out of his game against Shenley.But Blair seemed to be having fun and smiling all the time.He helped his teammates up all the time. Was quick on his feet. And was just a rebounder underneath and didnt shoot farther out than 8ft.Going to be a nice player if he can grw another 2 inches and cuts some weight again.Pitt likes the fattys

Comment by Buzz 03.25.07 @ 9:37 am

Dan72,

What I saw was UCLA hitting some big time shots over and over as the clock ran down. It was impressive but i didn’t see that against Pitt. Which is why i thought they were beatable on Thursday. They played a better game on saturday.

Comment by TMGPanther 03.25.07 @ 11:02 am

UCLA played very well against Kansas. They did not against Pitt. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have been more competitive other than the players are mostly pussies just like the coach.

Comment by J-Maile 03.25.07 @ 12:03 pm

J- what are your credentials?

Comment by slikk 03.25.07 @ 12:45 pm

The most frustrating thing to me was not that they lost this game, but its just that you would think that just one time it would be our night to break through. The 4th time in 6 years we’ve gone out in the sweet 16. I have no hard feelings towards this team because they all, especially Graves, gave their all. It would have been nice though to see them break through. I do think the team next year will take a small step back and be top 15, but will be more equiped for a deep run in the tourney because of more athletes.

Comment by Rob 03.25.07 @ 2:56 pm

I played high school and college basketball and used to coach. But that really doesn’t have anything to do with it. The more important thing is I watch all the games and have been for a long time. Pray tell, what kind of credentials are needed to evaluate the heart and will of a basketball team?

Comment by J-Maile 03.25.07 @ 6:19 pm

No shame in losing to 2 final four teams

Comment by DaveD 03.25.07 @ 7:29 pm

I don’t know, I’d rather be one.

Comment by J-Maile 03.25.07 @ 7:31 pm

I could be just being a little defensive of the BE here, but doesn’t it seem recently that the ACC is suffering a bit of the “Curse of the Bambino”

It just seems lately that the Big East has been putting a hurt on the ACC since they tried to basically destroy the conference.

I know I probably am over-exaggerating the whole thing…it just feels that way to me.

🙂

DaveD

Comment by DaveD 03.25.07 @ 7:34 pm

J,

I think everyone here would…all I am saying is this team lost their tourney games to 2 final four teams.

That is not something to be ashamed of…that is all I am saying. (I also think it is a line that you would tell a potential recruit).

Just trying to stay positive here. 🙂

DaveD

Comment by DaveD 03.25.07 @ 7:36 pm

Does this sound familiar:

“When the officials were introduced, Georgetown fans quickly pointed out that the Hoyas had lost five of their last six games with Shaw working. He handles a lot of Big East games, but only once when Georgetown played this season — a home loss to Villanova.”

Comment by TMGPanther 03.25.07 @ 8:45 pm

J- I don’t know if the “no heart” and “not ready to play” stuff can describe being beat by UCLA and for that matter Georgetown this year.. It seemed as though the BE final was a huge let down because here we were, a team that was supposed to feed off the pivot/scorer passer and we all know what happenned down the stretch. I prefer to think of it as coming up short against two very good teams. Who as you say might have been more hungry..But I don’t question the kids heart and guts..I will agree with you that there didn’t seem to be a real emotion of playing for “each other” that typifies most championship teams. I look at the body language of guys on the court and to me, there wasn’t a real vocal guy who was getting the boys attention on the court. Brandon was a player who lead and the others followed.

So a lack of heart…maybe but no one questioned these guys when they made the BE final..so maybe they just weren’t good enough..or led enough..

Comment by slikk 03.26.07 @ 7:50 pm

To me, the Brandin Knight/Jaron Brown teams just weren’t very talented so they never broke my heart. I was really happy with whatever they did.

I just really feel like this team didn’t maximized its potential and always backed down and looked disorganized when things got tough. In my mind that comes from coaching. The VCU game almost made me lose it. We were so much more talented than that team it was disgusting. Now, was G-Town more talented than us? Probably. But I think we had just as good of players as UCLA and the bigger issue is that no matter who was better or worse than us from a talent perspective, I felt like we didn’t play up to our own potential.

And the really sad part is I’m afraid that this was our last real chance. Hopefully I’m wrong (lord knows I have been before… when Kendall was a freshman even I thought he was going to turn into a player) but having Aaron Gray presented a unique opportunity.

Comment by J-Maile 03.26.07 @ 9:08 pm

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