The Pitt team and the fans needed that last night. No argument that Providence is not a very good team — though, I do like their new coach and the potential of the team starting as early as next year. Also no argument that Pitt still has a lot of problems — especially on defense.
That doesn’t change how much of a relief it was to get the win last night for Pitt.
“They are a totally different team (with Woodall),” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Everybody is in their role. Everybody is in their comfort zone.”
Woodall ran the Pitt offense to a 22-assist, 10-turnover ratio. He had five assists and no turnovers in the second half.
“I had legs early,” Woodall said. “It was great to get a win under our belt. It’s great to be out here on the court with my team.”
Pitt led, 46-31, at halftime and led by at least seven points the rest of the way to end a skid that had plunged the Panthers from No. 15 in the AP Top 25 to No. 16 in the Big East.
Gibbs, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, single-handedly took over late in the first half, scoring 14 points in a 3:05 span.
“That was the game,” Cooley said.
For at least one night, we saw Pitt’s offense flow. Gibbs was able to curl and come off of screens clean and showed his quick release that has been missing. No double clutching, no hesitation because there was a defender waiting for him. It had been so long since we had seen that, some might have thought Gibbs was just throwing up shots rather than doing what he had been doing for the past 3+ years.
Tray Woodall just looked like all the rust was off of him in this game. He still got the early rest and Coach Dixon just barely kept his minutes to under 30, but he was sharp.
“(Athletic trainer Tony Salesi) has been doing a great job of shooting me up with some drugs,” Woodall said, drawing laughter.
With a healthy Woodall, we’d be talking about Pitt as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, flirting with .500 in the Big East.
It’s not that hard to figure out. What is a football team without its starting quarterback?
Dixon smiled when he was asked if he’d learned any lessons during the losing streak.
“I guess it reaffirmed that point guard is important,” he said. “Although I think I knew that beforehand.”
Dixon clapped and very nearly smiled on his way off the court. The players were pleased, as well, though Woodall knows his injury won’t be going away anytime soon. He said he wakes up feeling like an old man.
“The most important thing for this injury is time,” Woodall said. “And I don’t really have that.”
That’s the one lingering terror. This injury could be re-aggravated and Pitt could find itself without Woodall once more this season.
The team, though, was just so much more comfortable looking out there. No one seemed to have the entire weight of the team on them for every shot. For every defensive sequence.
“The players have confidence in him. That’s something you can’t put into words or quantify it. The players have confidence when he is on the floor.”
The Panthers shot 49 percent from the field, their highest shooting percentage in a game since shooting 50 percent against Saint Francis. And, when the shots were not going in early, offensive rebounding allowed the Panthers to build a lead. The Panthers had eight of their 14 offensive rebounds in the first half before Gibbs and Woodall heated up and totaled 18 second-chance points.
Everything, it appears, has clicked with Woodall back in place.
“You can see it in practice,” Dixon said. “You see it in games. It’s different. It’s amazing he’s back playing at this level so quick. He was tremendous. I thought it spread. I think it will continue to spread as we continue to work. We have to have a good day tomorrow to build off it because this is a starting point.”
The one other thing that was noticeable, the weak turnout for the game (and the liveblog). Ron Cook uses it to point out how tough it is to play in a pro-sports town, but to also imply Pitt fans are way too fickle/spoiled. That’s an appealing notion, but it ignores a big difference. This isn’t just a bad season. This was a bad streak. It’s one thing to have this record with wins and losses mixed in. It is another thing when the team has lost 8 straight games. Couple it with a weak opponent, mid-week and yeah, a bad night for attendance. One game, though, does not mean the glory days of the Pete as a place to be are over.