Pitt got Travon Woodall back, and they even led for the first 12 minutes of the game. Once they surrendered that lead 12 minutes into the game, they never saw it again as Louisville defeated the Panthers 73-62 at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday night.
The loss sends Pitt to its eighth consecutive loss, as well as an 0-7 start in Big East play. Louisville entered Saturday's contest struggling, losing three of its previous four games. The Cardinals looked far from a struggling team on Saturday.
Leading the way for Louisville was Kyle Kuric, who came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points. Chane Behanan added 17 for the Cards. Lamar Patterson and Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 14 points, followed by Nasir Robinson with 12. Woodall—in his first start back—was 0-for-5 from the field. In his last two starts—Notre Dame and Louisville—he has gone 0-for-10 from the field in 39 minutes of play.
Dixon said after the game that he feels that Woodall was ready to go, and there shouldn't be any worry of rushing Woodall back into the lineup—or any worry of his injuries coming back at this point. He also shyed away from pinpointing Woodall's injuries on his 0-of-5 performance from the field.
"He'll be better next time out, that's what I told him walking out," Dixon said. "That's what we're working for."
Dixon opened his postgame press conference thanking the fans. He seems to be pleased with the work ethic of his team. He just admits they're not getting the job done.
"I'd like to thank our fans, I thought they were tremendous once again," Dixon said. "I can't thank them enough for their support, and putting out the energy and environment. They've been supporting us and battling with us all the way through. Our players are battling and playing hard. We're just not getting it done.
"I think we have to take some responsibility defensively. We will practice hard getting ready for Providence. Our kids are working hard."
Woodall said they were unsure of whether or not Kuric would be ready to go, but it didn't take too long to see him light up the Panthers on 5-of-9 three-pointers on the night.
"Definitely, we didn't know if he was playing today," Woodall said. "We knew he was a really good shooter. He was a lot more perimeter-oriented. We tried our best to close out on him, but he's knocked down some tough shots."
Pitt jumped out to an early 9-5 lead. Lamar Patterson was a force inside, coming up with two big offensive rebounds resulting in four easy points. The return of Woodall also helped. He worked an in-bounds pass over to Ashton Gibbs for a three-pointer on his first attempt. Gibbs was 4-of-10 from three-point range for the night.
After the fast start, Woodall took to the bench. At first, it looked like the plan was to ease Woodall back into the game. John Johnson entered the game for Woodall, while Dante Taylor came in for Talib Zanna after the opening four minutes. Woodall returned a short while later, and even though he didn't assist on the baskets, John Johnson and Dante Taylor finished off a pair of fast break layups. Pitt led 13-7, as Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was forced to call timeout, not even seven minutes into the game.
The unfortunate thing, though, was that even though Pitt went up by 6, Woodall had picked up two quick fouls. He came back in for Gibbs, picked up his second foul, then was replaced by Isaiah Epps in a matter of seconds.
Louisville climbed back into it, trailing 13-11. A layup by Kuric at the halfway point of the first half tied it up for the Cardinals, 13-13. Louisville would take its first lead on a free throw from Behanan, with eight minutes left in the first half. The Cardinals led 16-15 at that point, and despite a minor blip later in the first half, would go on to hold the lead the rest of the game. Gibbs said after the game, it's been a bothersome theme of how this season has gone.
"It's been the story of the whole season," Gibbs said. "We've held leads every game. We need to keep playing defense, have less turnovers, keep taking care of the ball; something we have to do throughout the game."
The Cardinals went up 19-15, before Gibbs came through with another three-pointer to give the Panthers a little spark. Pitt went on a mini 5-0 run, thanks to Gibbs' second three-pointer of the game, regaining the lead momentarily at 20-19. Woodall also returned to the game, playing with two fouls.
The fouls, however, hit the Cardinals a little harder. Guard Peyton Siva went to the bench with just under six minutes left, picking up his third foul. The Cardinals answered with its biggest run of the first half—a 7-0 run, including three-pointers from Kuric and Gorgui Dieng. Louisville went up 26-20.
Pitt wouldn't get another field goal until a putback by Robinson—a drought of over three and a half minutes. The defense then stepped up, forcing a desperate three-pointer by Louisville and the shot clock winding down. The Panthers regained possession, and answered with a three-pointer by Patterson. Pitt was back to a point, until Kuric—who had the hot hand off the bench—added another three-pointer. Louisville led 29-25.
The Cardinals added a couple of easy layups before Patterson hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. Louisville was able to hang on for a 31-28 lead at halftime.
Pitt kept is close for the early part of the second half, before Louisville was able to blow the door open. The Panthers trailed 33-30 after a putback by Robinson. Talib Zanna had an and-one, to keep Pitt in it at 35-33. Even though the Panthers had an offensive answer for each Louisville bucket of the early part of the second half, the Cardinals began to pull away after a three-pointer from Kuric—his third of the game—put Louisville up 40-33. Three minutes in to the second half, it was Louisville's largest lead of the game. Even worse, Pitt had not led since the eight minute mark of the first half.
Taylor added a dunk. That ended a four-minute drought of Pitt without a field goal. Taylor's dunk ended up being a bit of a spark for the Panther offense. After the Pitt defense forced a Louisville turnover, Patterson added a layup and Gibbs added another jumper. Pitt came back within three at 42-39. Unfortunately, Kuric added his fourth three-pointer of the night to extend the Louisville lead.
Taylor, however, wasn't done on his end. After another easy layup where he was wide-open under the night, Taylor drew a charge on the defensive end giving the Panthers the ball. Pitt trailed 45-41.
Unfortunately, the Panthers stalled on their next three offensive possessions. That, and a strong inside game from Louisville. Kuric's three-pointers were killing them, and the Panthers had no answer. Chane Behanan and Peyton Siva came up with dunks, while Dieng made another easy layup. All the while, Pitt couldn't even get a quality shot. Louisville's lead reached double-digits—51-41 with 9:32 remaining, before Taylor could answer with another layup of his own. Pitt just could not catch up.
"We had our opportunities," Dixon added.