Let's Get Physical

If Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is to be believed, a matchup between his No. 1-ranked Huskies and No. 4 Pitt was scheduled this past Monday night but an NBA game broke out instead.

Calhoun, the veteran Hall of Fame coach, whined incessantly to the referees that Pittsburgh center DeJuan Blair was allowed to push his players back and forth in the paint and the Panthers were allowed to be too physical. But all Blair did for Pitt was set the tone early.

"I want to congratulate Pittsburgh on a terrific job,'' Calhoun said. "They came in here and played a particular style of basketball that we hadn't seen this year, and it was very effective against us. (Blair) was wonderful.

"He's a great, great basketball player. A terrific player, great warrior. When he's allowed to roam the post like that and use his physicality in the post, he's absolutely wonderful. He's a nightmare for every single coach.''

As expected, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon really didn't see things that way.

"We're from Pittsburgh, so they're going to say that we're tough and physical no matter what we do,'' Dixon said. "I could send out five guys like Greg (Pitt media relations director Hotchkiss, who's actually a big-time hacker on he court), and they would call us physical. So, I think it's just who we are.

"(Coaches) are talking to officials, and I think they're trying to prepare their team. I don't know what physical means. We play hard. We dive on the floor, and the kids care. They're going to play hard, and we've got a lot of good teams in our conference. It's been a good race that's lived up to the hype.''

Dixon believed that the Big East referees have been pretty consistent so far this season, but it's tough because one call can change a game as it could quickly get a player into foul trouble. Fortunately for Pitt, that didn't happen against Connecticut.

"I just know it was a physical game, but Calhoun is a Hall of Famer,'' Pitt senior point guard Levance Fields said. "So, he can say pretty much anything he wants. I have no comment on that, but I just know it was a tough game. Both teams played extremely hard, and fortunately for us we came out with the win.

"We try to go out and set the tone, and sometimes I guess people have said that we can be a little too physical when DeJuan gets in foul trouble. But the refs let us play (against Connecticut), so they didn't think it was too physical. And once again, we were able to come out on top.''

Fields also believed that the Panthers have the talent to adapt if a game is called a little tighter by the officials.

"We do have enough to get by if we can 't play physical, but we don't want to be in that situation,'' Fields said. "We need DeJuan to be in there. Just his presence, with him being out there, he can intimidate other teams. So, we don't want it to happen, but if we get into trouble I believe we do have what it takes to adapt and adjust and be successful.

"Big East teams don't necessarily have to change their styles in the NCAA Tournament, but every team has to adapt to how the refs are calling it. So, if we come out and play our game the way we are used to playing, and if they're calling it tight then we'll just have to adjust.

"(And) as long as they're consistent, I don't mind,'' Fields added. "It's tough on the refs, with the way we play, but in the NCAA Tournament it could be a little different. And we'll just have to adjust if that happens. I know we'll be able to adjust, and we'll be able to handle whatever we face.''

Junior two-guard Jermaine Dixon is in his first season with the Panthers, and he believed the UConn game was just as physical as several others this season.

"It was a pretty physical game, but the Louisville game was physical, West Virginia,'' Dixon said. "We've played in some real physical games. I can't say it was the most physical, but it was right up there. More for the big men, though. I think what happened with DeJuan and Thabeet set the tone for how it was going to be, and DeJuan really set the tone for it to be real physical.

"In the non-conference games, it wasn't always physical. We didn't have to be that physical, but in the Big East games a lot of teams challenged us. Villanova, Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia and UConn all challenged us, and we have the players to match that. (But) every conference isn't as physical as ours, so we have to see how it's going to be called in the Tournament.

"We have to be able to adapt, and I think we can do it,'' Dixon added. "It happened in the game DeJuan got into foul trouble. We picked it up more, everybody picked it up. We lost two games when DeJuan was in foul trouble, but we've also withstood the problems in other games.''

And with DeJuan Blair setting the tone, there's no telling how far Pitt will go.

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