Pitt Boosts Its Intensity

Since it was finals week for the Pitt men's basketball team, the Panthers probably believed they would get a somewhat lighter and possibly staggered practice schedule to accommodate their academic situation.

The Pittsburgh coaches had other ideas. With the Panthers (8-2) also needing to prepare for Mount St. Mary's (3-6) Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center, the coaching staff put the team through its most rigorous workouts since the preseason.

Pitt practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a little lighter workout the last day. But the first two were the toughest and longest this season, and that's just what the Panthers needed, according to junior Bradley Wanamaker.

"The week was tough, but I felt it definitely was something that we needed,'' Wanamaker said. "It was something that could help us mature and make better decisions. He really was on us in practice, and maybe that was something that we should have done more of early on.

"Maybe we would have been a better team now, but it definitely was something that we needed. You could say that it was like our (preseason) practices, because the coaches were really on us. They wanted to see the fight in us and work us hard, so it was really good for us.

"(And) during practice, he switched up teams a lot to see who made the best rotations, who defended the ball and who communicated the best,'' Wanamaker added. "So, he just wanted to get some different looks out there to try to get the best defensive five out there.''

Freshman Dante Taylor has not looked like a five-star recruit on occasion this season since he is playing an unfamiliar position, but he worked hard on his post moves and defensive play and was glad to have a week like this past one.

"Coach told us practices this week were going to be like a four-day boot camp, since we haven't really had a chance to practice this many days consecutively since the season started,'' Taylor said. "So, every day, we've been getting after it. ... I would say that these were the toughest practices so far.

"But I would say that it's all for the better as long as it helps us win games. For me, it's not really that hard to defend the five position, but I would say that it's tougher to play it on offense and help-side defense. So, that's what I worked on real hard in practice this past week.''

Earlier this season, Wanamaker noted that maybe the Panthers weren't taking pride in playing defense the way a Pitt team should, but he was much happier with the way things progressed on that front this week.

"Maybe the last couple days in practice, maybe the taking pride in our defense picked up for us in practice, because you could see guys getting upset when guys scored on them,'' Wanamaker said. "But that's definitely something that needs to get carried over into the games.

"(And) Coach Dixon has constantly preached to us to stop talking about it and just do it. When we watch film, we can constantly see us making mistakes, and he said that we have too many excuses. So, we just have to stop making excuses and just go out there and get it done.''

The coaches usually establish a Gold (first) Team and Blue Team during practice, but that changed this week. Only Blue and White shirts were issued.

"I think it was a good thing, because I feel as though some guys just got comfortable in our role,'' Wanamaker said. "It probably helped to knock some of us down and know that nothing is going to be given to us.''

Taylor agreed and used the open practice as an opportunity.

"All the positions were open, and this was our chance to show the coaches whether or not we wanted to be a starter,'' Taylor said. "(And) the top five guys who play defense would get the chance to start.

"So, this was a good opportunity for me to show Coach that I can play hard, and maybe that can help me work my way into the starting lineup. So, it definitely was a good opportunity. I could see myself playing multiple positions, but right now I'm just playing center because that's where Coach wants me to be.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon had a specific formula for determining starters.

"Defensively, we're going to put the best defensive players out there,'' Dixon said. "And now that we have our full squad, we anticipate starting our best defensive players. And that's what we're looking at right now. ... I've stressed from the beginning that the best defensive players would be playing.

"But we haven't been in a position to just base it on that because of the numbers and positions and guys we've had to put out there. So, we'll see where we're at next week.''

After the weekend, Pitt returns to action against Ohio Tuesday night at 7 at the Petersen Events Center.

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