Ashton Gibbs is back for the Pitt Panthers and even though they lost their first game after he returned to the lineup following a three-game absence with a left knee injury, they know he is ready to lead them down the stretch and into the post-season.
Gibbs picked up right where he left off. He had scored 24 and 25 points in the two games previous to injury and took up the natural progression with 26 points in his return against St. John's, the only Panther in double figures.
Gibbs said he did not enjoy his time on the bench but he did benefit from it.
"It's the first time I've ever been out in my life," Gibbs told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Just watching was the toughest part. It was tough being on the bench. I was probably the happiest man in the world when they gave me the OK to play."
Gibbs felt watching the game from a different perspective will help him through the rest of the season.
"I definitely learned a lot on the offensive end and defensive end," Gibbs said. "How to get your shot off, how to get shots, how to create shots for your teammates. And the defensive schemes of other teams, how to play defense. It was a blessing in disguise for me to analyze the game the way I did."
Predictably, the Panthers had problems scoring without Gibbs, who averaged 16.3 points per game prior to the injury. They were averaging 76.2 points per game this season through Feb. 20, but managed only 65 per game during his absence.
"We have another shotmaker and a guy we know can go out there and score a bunch of points when we need them," said Travon Woodall, who replaced Gibbs in the starting lineup for the three games.
--Why is Pitt leading the toughest conference in America, the Big East? Consider this. Through Feb. 20, the Panthers ranked in the top four in the conference in scoring offense (4), scoring defense (2), scoring margin (1), field goal percentage (3), field goal percentage defense (4), 3-point percentage (1), rebounding offense (1), rebounding defense (1) , rebounding margin (1), assists (1), assist-turnover margin (2), offensive rebounds (1), defensive rebounds (4).
--Over the last 10 seasons (through Feb. 20), Pitt was the Big East's best team with a winning percentage of just under .800 with 269 victories and 67 defeats, nine NCAA Tournament appearances and 10 consecutive 20-victory, 10-league victory seasons.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The number of consecutive games Pitt had won from St. John's before being upset on Feb. 19 by the rapidly improving Johnnies. Pitt also had not lost to St. John's in five years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "A three minutes we don't want to remember." -- Pitt G Brad Wannamaker, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the final meltdown in an upset loss at St. John's on Feb. 19.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--vs. West Virginia, Feb. 24
KEY MATCHUPS: Another renewal of "The Backyard Brawl" which Pitt has dominated lately, including winning the first game this year in Morgantown. Pitt has G Ashton Gibbs back in the starting line, the Panthers' leading scorer, which can only help as he missed the first meeting. Pitt must find a way to control WVU's inside game, led by C Deniz Kilicli, who scored 19 points in the first game.
--at Louisville, Feb. 27
KEY MATCHUPS: Louisville has been a different team home and away, recording a 16-2 record in its new home, but Pitt has truly been a road warrior, going 6-0 on opponent's courts and 3-1 on neutral courts. Louisville offers a guard-oriented balanced offense with G Preston Knowles leading the way at 14.9 per game through Feb. 20. G Peyton Siva was the only other player in double figures at 10.4 but there were three players scoring between nine and 10 points a game. The Cardinals play solid defense but Pitt should handle them on the boards.
FUTURES MARKET: Pitt's senior class is saying goodbye in a big way and has the NCAA championship on its mind. The class consists of Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee and Brad Wannamaker and it has won 107 games during its run. It needs six more victories to berak the school record of 112 held by the 2008-09 senior class of Tyrell Biggs, Levance Fields and Sam Young. The current senior class' winning percentage of .810 is second to the 2004-05 class of Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll.
--Sophomore PG Travon Woodall has proven to be a solid floor leader with 95 assists and 41 turnovers through Feb. 20 and he did a solid job filling in when Ashton Gibbs was out with a knee injury.
--Senior G Brad Wanamaker is attempting to become the second player in school history to score more than 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 400 assists. The only player to do it was Carl Krauser, who had 1,642 points, 526 rebounds and 568 assists. Wanamaker possesses 1,025 points, 450 rebounds and 413 assists.