Eight Is Enough For Pitt

The Pitt men's basketball team has rolled to 10 victories to open its fifth straight season, but unlike previous years Panthers coach Jamie Dixon has shortened his bench long before the Big East schedule has begun.

Freshman guard Brad Wanamaker did not play at Washington and Saturday against Oklahoma State, and he has tallied just 10 total minutes the past four games. Junior center Cassin Diggs and freshman center Gary McGhee have not played in three straight games now.

However, since Pittsburgh has been successful so far, the eight-man rotation clearly has worked. And Dixon has been happy with his three-man bench comprised of senior Keith Benjamin, redshirt freshman Gilbert Brown and junior Terrell Biggs.

"Keith was really good, and just kind of how the game went so slow in the second half, I probably should have played those guys -- Keith, Gilbert and Tyrell -- more minutes in the second half. But I didn't do it.

"So, Keith was big, and he did some good things on offense and defense. Tyrell played really well, even though his numbers didn't show it. (And) Bradley, Cassin and Gary need to keep working as we go on, because they're going to give us some valuable minutes in the future.''

Pitt's starters -- junior forward Sam Young (35 minutes), senior forward Mike Cook (29), freshman center DeJuan Blair (31), junior point guard Levance Fields (33 and senior guard Ronald Ramon (34) -- all played around 30 minutes. Benjamin had 13 productive minutes with five points, two assists and a steal with just one turnover. Biggs gave Blair a blow for 14 minutes, but contributed just three free throws and three rebounds. Brown played 11 minutes and was 0-for-1 from the field with one rebound, one assist and one turnover.

"Keith knocked down some shots,'' Fields said. "Gilbert got to the basket, and Tyrell made some free throws. So, when our bench plays that well in spurts, we're a pretty good team. So, (the rotation) obviously has been good enough.

"(But) we're winning now. We'll need as many guys as possible down the stretch. At the end, I think an eight-man rotation is good enough, but if Dixon decides to add some more depth to it that's fine. But this is what the rotation is right now, and it's been working. And we're all in good shape, so there haven't been any lapses due to us being tired.''

The Panthers have been known for a physical, tightly-played defense during Dixon's tenure, but they shot tremendously well in the first half against Oklahoma State at 68 percent (17 of 25) and were at 55.1 percent overall.

"We shot 55 percent, so when you shoot a high percentage like that it's usually a good day for you,'' Fields said. "But the key for us at the end was just playing better defense. ... Ultimately, we knew we had to start boxing out and getting rebounds to start out our transition offense.

"We were able to do that, and that's why we finished strong in the first half (a 20-5 run). They cut into the lead a little bit, but we held them off and opened it back up. So, I don't think we ever weren't in control in the second half.''

And with an eight-man rotation, the Panthers still stayed fresh.

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