Pitt Picks Up The Pace

After watching the Panthers lose their intensity on defense and get out-rebounded by 16 in the second half against Rutgers Saturday night, Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon decided it was time to get back to basics.

For Pittsburgh (16-4, 4-3), which dropped to No. 18 after the loss, that meant an up-tempo practice Monday afternoon with live, five-on-five drills in the workout. And that suits the Panthers just fine.

"We especially wanted to get back out there after a loss,'' senior point guard Ramon said. "Guys wanted to get out there and respond. If we would have gone non-contact out there (Monday), the guys would have been upset. So, we wanted to pick it up, help each other out and get each other better.

"We do need guys to be fresh on the court for game day, that hasn't changed. But Coach is doing a great job switching it up, working us hard to get us ready and going lighter for a day. But when you say that, we run hard on the court to stay in shape. So, it's not really a light day. We don't slow down.''

Dixon basically dialed back the practice sessions after Pitt lost redshirt freshman Austin Wallace (knee), senior forward Mike Cook (knee), junior guard Levance Fields (foot) and junior center Cassin Diggs (hip) to injuries that left the Panthers with just eight scholarship players. Among those are four with freshman eligibility. Two walk-ons on the roster allow Pitt to go five-on-five now.

And the increase intensity should help Pitt get ready for Villanova (13-5, 3-4) Wednesday night at 7 at the Petersen Events Center.

"We did more competitive drills, more five-on-five and things like that,'' redshirt freshman forward Gilbert Brown said. "We probably just went live like that only once before game day, because we didn't want to get anybody else to go out and get injured. But almost every drill from beginning to end, we started out with competitive drills going five-on-five. And everyone loves to compete.

"Who's going to win, and who's going to lose? And everybody is trying to win, so that just makes the practice better. I think we do need live practices every once in a while just to get us into it, because the other times before games we would just do a lot of skill work and a lot of running and getting shots up, but we weren't getting a lot of competitive drills in and going five-on-five.

"So, the only five-on-five we were really getting was in the games, so we definitely needed this practice today,'' Brown added. "It helps us work on our defensive intensity, positioning and help defense. Also, executing offensive sets, so I think it definitely does help us in the long run when it comes game time. I would say we went five-on-five 90 percent of the (practice).''

Dixon believed the extra effort was necessary because Pitt's defense has been a concern the past three games, including the Cincinnati and St. John's games, not just Rutgers. So, the Panthers needed to get back on track quickly.

"We got after it in practice,'' Dixon said. "We went five-on-five, and we haven't been doing that after a game situation with our numbers, but we thought we had to today. And the guys wanted to, so we did it and got after it. We worked on some things defensively. ... Even though we won by a pretty big margin against St. John's, they shot a pretty good percentage.

"So, we wanted to work real hard on our defense. It's how you play when you play games, so that's the benefit of going five-on-five in practice. Our (style) is built on intensity and toughness and physicality, and you can't help but lose some of it in the practices. ... There's nothing like getting after it in practice. And it's what the guys wanted to do, so it worked out well.''

Ramon echoed those sentiments.

"I don't think we gave enough effort against Rutgers,'' Ramon said. "We can lose games, but if we leave everything on the court we can live with that. But the last game, it wasn't like that. We gave up on defense and weren't playing as hard as we could. And we got away from the things that we do on the court.

"But I think we responded well. Everybody came out with intensity and was pushing each other, and we made sure everybody stepped up. It just wasn't about taking shots and working on offense. We wanted to pick up our intensity on defense, and focus and be patient with our help defense. We're going to miss shots, but we can't get away from playing tough team defense.''

Notes: Dixon believed freshmen Bradley Wanamaker and Gary McGhee were playing much better lately and deserved more playing time. ... Surgery still hasn't been ruled out for Diggs, even though he practiced more Monday than he has the entire month, because he still can't go full speed and is in much discomfort. ... Senior guard Keith Benjamin reopened the cut on his right (shooting) hand and needed it to be re-stitched against Rutgers. He practiced with it heavily taped and should be fine for 'Nova. ... Fields is expected to get a CT Scan in the next week or so to see that his foot is heeling properly. He's improving daily, but no time has been set officially for his return.

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