I’ve gotten most of my say regarding the officiating out of my system. The only thing I’ll add is that I’m stunned to see the sanitizing of the officiating in the print accounts of the game. Not even a slight hint of it, with use of “dubious” or “questionable” regarding the intentional foul call in the final seconds in the stories. But then again, the Trib story refers to it as a flagrant foul — which I guess can happen when you send a guy who doesn’t follow much more than hockey this time of the year.
The good news is that Pitt was much better defending the 3-point shot this time out. Abe Lodwick was given very limited space and Washington really had to work for their shots in this game. Pitt definitely was little more patient on defense in this game. They were getting frustrated in the second half with Reggie Moore getting to the free throw line by driving to the basket.
This game was different for Pitt since Ashton Gibbs was out with an ankle injury. There have been reports all season that he had an ankle bothering him, so maybe that played into his poor play in the last few games. Not to mention a sour look on his face. If he was fighting through the pain to play. At least, maybe, that’s what I’d like to think was happening.
Without Gibbs, the one big issue was trying to spell Tray Woodall. Or not spelling him. In the first half, twice Coach Dixon trotted out Isiah Epps and John Johnson to be in the backcourt for two minute spells that could be combined with media timeouts. Pitt survived but looked very shaky. The team’s movement stopped and no one was sure what to do on offense. The coaches noticed, and Woodall played the entire second half. Woodall also had a nasty split he performed when he tried planting one foot on the “Zebra Pen” sticker-sign temporarily placed on the court, mid-way through the 1st half. It looked painful, and given his injuries this year, probably felt even worse. Those two factors definitely impacted Woodall in the second half. Woodall scored all of his points in the first half and was 0-7 in the second half.
The lack of Gibbs also meant the first significant minutes for John Johnson in a while. He responded with a rather solid game. Not brilliant. Not abysmal. Just what you would expect. He nailed a couple threes. Had an egregious turnover. Stayed all over whoever he was guarding on the perimeter.
Cam Wright got the start without Gibbs in the line-up. He does relish playing defense, and given the officiating struggled with foul problems. I do like his defense, but he has to work on finishing around the rim and his passing. He can actually get in there and fight for rebounds, but either kick it out or get the contact.
After shooting 0-6 in the first game (which when I looked at the box score freaked me out to realize he took 6 shots), Washington State was daring him to shoot. Hell, they were daring Pitt to pass Wright the ball. During the game, you could see Wright left entirely alone on one side of the basket. Just waiting by the 3-point line. No Cougar player was near him. And still, Pitt didn’t even swing the ball over to him. It was comical. And at the same time all I could think was, “This is exactly right — for both teams.”
Nasir Robinson remained a constant. Never questioning his heart or effort. Just that he took a couple 3s in the game (and made one).
Sadly, you could see this kind of game coming with J.J. Moore. After the Butler game where he went inside and attacked, the last game had him taking most of his shots from outside. This time he was a non-factor, barely venturing into the paint. He only took 4 shots — all from outside the 3-point line — and managed to have 0 rebounds and 0 free throws in 21 minutes. His play was especially upsetting to me, because the officials were calling anything on the defense if the offense attacked the basket. He could have helped keep Washington State from closing that gap so much in the second half. He never drove to the hoop. He just wanted to shoot. Just when you think Moore has really started to get it. He reverts back to the form that had him a non-factor for a huge portion of the season.
Dante Taylor had another minimalist performance. Some had to do with Zanna playing so well, but a lot had to do with Taylor struggling to handle playing so far from the basket on defense. Washington State’s slow-tempo offense features nobody near the basket for large stretches of the shot clock. Trying to spread out the defense to find a jump shot or let Reggie Moore or, well, mainly Reggie Moore drive to the basket. Taylor only managed 2 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Talib Zanna is one of two Pitt players who really seems to have taken advantage in the CBI to show something. In the 5 games, he has averaged 11.8 ppg and 7.4 rebounds. What’s more his shooting percentage is .719 (23-32), and he is actually hitting free throws (13-19, including 6-8 last night). No he is not a defensive force, but he was actually able to stay with the forwards of Washington State who roam all over the court. He is still very deficient in passing the ball, but if he can develop that more over the summer — he might (I stress might) be the perfect compliment at power forward to Steven Adams at center next year.
Finally Lamar Patterson has been solid all season. But what he has shown in the CBI to this point is that he can produce in the closing minutes. He struggled on offense for most of the game, but got to the free throw line for 10 attempts (8-10) and made a clutch basket in the final minute. His defense is still a work-in-progress, but what I do like about him is that he wants to get better. Coach Dixon has let him know he is going to be expected to be a big cog for the coming season, and he is not shying away from it. He’s a bit selective in his shots and is too willing to stop when trying to penetrate — apparently in fear or anticipating being called for a charge. No doubt he can get better, but he is playing someone that wants more.