Pitt Must Get Back On Track

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon was asked where shooting prowess comes in if rebounding and playing tough defense are tops when discussing his philosophy for achieving success on the court.

Pittsburgh (20-8, 8-7) is shooting just 33.5 percent from 3-point range, including 30 percent or less the past four games. Dixon, as usual, evaded the question by discussing another topic.

"I thought we've taken good shots, and that's an important part of shooting,'' Dixon said. "But we haven't shot it well. We have two guys with torn shoulders (Ronald Ramon and Gilbert Brown) that we count on as shooters, and we've got Keith (Benjamin) with an infected finger that we found out (Wednesday).

"So, we're dealing with that, and we've got a guy in Levance (Fields) who hasn't played in eight weeks. So, we've just got to fight through it. I don't know if those are excuses or what, but I know we're a better shooting team than what we're shooting. ... We just have to keep working. We're not a finished product right now. We're a work in progress, (and) we'll keep working at it.'' Fields has been especially inconsistent from long range since returning from his broken foot, and Benjamin has been struggling since injuring his right hand.

"I don't know why we're missing so many shots, but we just have to keep on shooting,'' Fields said. "And we definitely have to make some against Syracuse to beat them, because they'll be playing zone (defense) the whole game. So, we just have to keep taking open shots and not think about it.''

"I was getting a lot of good looks in the first half, but it wouldn't fall,'' Benjamin said. "So, I knew I had to stick with it, and I knew it would come. We also got some big stops, and when that happens things are going to turn around.''

Pitt has never shot that well from long range, but it usually has been able to count on a stingy defense and solid rebounding. However, the Panthers have been out-rebounded seven times in 15 Big East games, including the past four when it allowed an average of 74 points per game and went 1-3.

"We're not rebounding,'' Dixon said. "The numbers don't lie. Anybody can figure that out. ... But we (beat Cincy), so it can be done. But you're not going to win consistently, especially the way we do it, because it's what we emphasize.

"So, we've gone from being a very good rebounding team to one that hasn't rebounded well in the past couple games. So, that's got to change. (But) we're finding our way, and I'm proud of the way we fought back at the end.''

And that was something Pitt had not done in its previous three losses. Sure, the game against Louisville was close, but in the end it was just another loss. And after three straight Big East defeats, the Panthers were extremely happy to get a win, even an underwhelming one against a sub-.500 Cincinnati team.

"We were very excited in the locker room after losing three games for the first time,'' Fields said. "So, it feels good to get one, finally, after a long losing streak. But we want to build on this. We can't stop now.

"As much as we enjoyed this one, we have to get focused on Syracuse (Saturday at noon), because they're going to be playing hard (in the Carrier Dome). And it's going to be a loud crowd.''

Pitt freshman center DeJuan Blair, who is averaging 12.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, believed the Cincinnati win was the beginning of a winning streak for the Panthers.

"It was great, just to get this win, and I think it's going to start us off,'' Blair said. "We've got confidence now in everybody, and everybody is coming around and playing their roles. So, we did a great job today, but we can't let up. We've got to go forward. No steps back. We have to keep playing.''

Pitt has back-to-back road games, Saturday at noon at Syracuse and Monday at 7 p.m. at West Virginia, before closing out the regular season at home against DePaul March 9 at noon at the Petersen Events Center.

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