Pathers look to continue Resiliency

PITTSBURGH -- The time is set for Pitt's first around NCAA game. The Panthers (27-7) face Wright State (23-9) Thursday at about 9:40 p.m. at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. Duke and Virginia Commonwealth play at 7:10 p.m. Thursday with the winners squaring off Saturday either 3:20 or approximately 5:50 p.m.

Despite losing three times in its last five regular-season games, Pitt rebounded to beat Marquette and Louisville in its opening Big East games. However, the Panthers had a poor performance in a loss to Georgetown in the championship game this past Saturday night. But Pitt coach Jamie Dixon did not believe his team would have a problem bouncing back.

"To win 27 games, you have to be resilient ... and you have to be able to take some hits,'' Dixon said. "Who's beaten teams like Marquette and Louisville in the first two games in their conference tournament, but ... we didn't get it done against a very good Georgetown team.

"With any sport, the next opponent is the best way to move on. So, we have Wright State coming up, and that's going to be our focus. We need to concentrate on them, and we'll do that leading up to the first game. But we've already put the Georgetown game behind us.''

Pitt senior center Aaron Gray likely will have the most difficult time doing that, since he had the worst game in his career with three points on 1-for-13 shooting and five rebounds in 25 minutes. The Panthers shot just 26.2 percent overall (3-17 from 3-point range) and lost by 23 points.

"Man, it was just one of those games, especially for myself,'' Gray said. "I don't like to take a lot of the credit, but I'll take a lot of fault for that. At the same time, I played hard. I felt like I was getting good looks. I didn't take any shots, maybe one or two, that I didn't think would go in. So, I think I just had a bad night, but I'm glad it happened in the Big East Tournament.

"In the NCAAs, it's one and done. Some people said I looked timid, but I think I was just a little too excited. My normal hook shots were going long, off the back of the rim, but we still have a lot of confidence in each other. I have great teammates and a great coaching staff. So, I hope everybody does count us out of the NCAAs just so we can prove you wrong.''

Senior guard Antonio Graves believed that the Panthers biggest opponent wouldn't be the one they faced on the court, but themselves.

"It's going to take a team effort for us to get refocused for NCAAs, but we need strong individual efforts to get us working together,'' Graves said. "We can't let it bother us, losing in the Big East, because we have a quick turnaround. (And) I really don't think it's a physical thing for us.

"The mental breakdowns make a difference, so that's what we have to work on. That's an area that has caused us some problems in the past, so we have to maintain our focus and not get too far ahead of ourselves. That's why we can't look past the Wright State game. They have to be our focus.''

Senior forward Levon Kendall took a different approach.

"I think we can use (the Georgetown loss) as a learning experience,'' Kendall said. "It can be motivation for the NCAA Tournament. I think our guys have responded pretty well throughout the year after tough losses.

"So, learning from those losses is the biggest thing. I think our guys are confident enough that it's not going to affect us in the long run, and it even could get us a little more fired up for the NCAAs.''

The Panthers also could benefit from having their fans pack HSBC Arena against Wright State.

"It's nice to have our first NCAA game be not too far away,'' Kendall said. "I guess it's about a three-hour drive, so our fans can get there pretty easy as well. I think we'll have a lot of fans there. They've been great all year, traveling to the games in D.C., New York and New Jersey.

"They've always come out to show their support, and this will make it a little easier on them as well, so that's great. We feed off their energy, so we need them to be there for us. And I'm sure they'll be there in full force.''

Notes: Pitt is making its 19th NCAA Tournament appearance and is 15-19 overall, but 7-5 in recent tourney games. ... Gray, Graves and Kendall join Chevon Troutman, Mark McCarroll and Carl Krauser as the only Pitt players to make four straight NCAA events. ... The Panthers have now received at-large bids in 16 different seasons and have qualified automatically in 1981, 1982 and 2003. ... Pitt advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2002, 2003 and 2004. ... The Panthers are the only Big East school to surpass the 20-win and 10-win Big East regular-season totals in each of the past six seasons with the top records for league play (71-25) and overall games (160-40).

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