Bruins End Panthers Season

Sure, you can be disappointed if you want with Pitt's 64-55 loss to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen, but don't call the Panthers' season disappointing. They accomplished too much.

Even though Pitt certainly was capable of beating the Bruins, the Panthers just couldn't make enough layups or free throws. But what else is new? And UCLA, despite being among the worst free-throw shooting teams in teams in the nation, canned 23 of 26 from the charity stripe. Pitt was 8-for-14, by the way. The Panthers didn't go to the line often enough let alone score enough from there. It was the difference in the game.

And every time Pitt appeared to be getting back in the game, whether on a solid defensive stop or Ronald Ramon 3-pointer, UCLA answered it with a hoop or got to the free-throw line. And since the Bruins went to the line nearly twice as many times as the Panthers and made nearly three times more shots from there, Pitt just couldn't make it all the way back.

While it's sad that the same things that have plagued the Panthers all season cropped up against UCLA as well, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon should be commended for getting the team this far with -- as he always says -- no McDonald's scholastic All-Americans in the lineup.

Against teams like UCLA, however, and certainly in the next round against Kansas, the absence of those types of players is increasingly evident. Don't despair, Pitt fans. With a strong nucleus coming back next season and a solid recruiting class, Dixon should have the Panthers primed for strong runs in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

Just look at the players who were on the court at the end. Guards Ramon and Levance Fields and forwards Sam Young and Mike Cook all return next season, while center Aaron Gray will graduate. Also, sophomore Tyrell Biggs came through with some solid minutes, all in the second half. Keith Benjamin, who didn't play well, is also coming back. This group gives the Panthers a lot of experience and talent.

Pitt also has athletic 6-foot-6 forward Gilbert Brown and 6-9 center Austin Wallace eligible after taking redshirts this season. And the incoming recruiting class includes 6-6, 240-pound forward DeJuan Blair from Schenley High in Pittsburgh, 6-7 Darnell Dodson from Greenbelt, Md., 6-10 center Gary McGhee from Anderson, Ind., 6-11 Cassin Diggs, a junior-college transfer from Kansas, and 6-3 guard Bradley Wannamaker.

With Biggs and Young getting more minutes, as well as the redshirts and recruits like Blair coming into the program, Pitt certainly will be more athletic. But there's just one question.

Will they be able to make their layups and free throws?

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