Long Layoff Has Pitt Rested And Ready To Go

When the Pitt men's basketball team finally tips off against Connecticut this week, the Panthers will have had a nine-day layoff between games.

No. 17 Pittsburgh (13-2, 3-0) faces No. 15 UConn (11-4, 2-2) Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. The Panthers have won six straight, including consecutive Big East road wins against Syracuse Jan. 2 and Cincinnati Jan. 4, while the Huskies are 3-2 in their last five with Conference losses to Cincy and Georgetown.

"The consistent practice time that we got to put in, getting up and down the court, going against each other, all that helps us get to know each other more and more every day,'' Pitt redshirt junior forward Gilbert Brown said. "I've only played in four games and Jermaine (Dixon), about seven.

"So, (the long layoff) really helped us get together as a team. (And) if anything, we should be well-rested. We had a tough road stretch at Syracuse and Cincinnati (in three days), so I think it was good to have a nine-day layoff to get ready for UConn, because it's going to be a very tough game up there.

"They have some big guys, big athletes,'' Brown added. "So, we'll have to really hit the boards and play great transition defense. They score a lot that way, so if we can put them in a half-court set by bringing the tough defense that we bring every night, then we'll be fine.''

Junior guard Bradley Wanamaker agreed that since Brown and senior guard Jermaine Dixon have had to battle back by playing games and with not much practice before this recent stretch, it was good to have some time off to rest and get back on the court for some practice time.

"We got Jermaine and Gil back into the flow of things,'' Wanamaker said. "So, we're getting better as a team and getting more comfortable with everyone playing together. So, I would say that the layoff came at a good time.''

Coach Dixon believed that all the Panthers benefit when the team practices, noting that he likes to run practices as much as the players.

"We brought some referees in on Saturday and had a scrimmage, and then we took Sunday off,'' Dixon said. "So, then, we had two days to prepare for Connecticut. The scrimmage was fun, competitive, we had some people in, and we split up the team for two 12-minute halves.

"It was productive, and one (half) came down to a buzzer-beating shot (a 30-footer by Travon Woodall). (Monday's) practice was good, too. We really got after it. The execution was good, and that's something we've been focusing on and stressing every day. And then we watched some Connecticut film.''

It's certainly a monumental task for any team to beat the Huskies in Hartford where more than 16,000 crazed fans will be cheering them on. But few probably believed Pitt could go into the Carrier Dome and beat Syracuse with nearly 25,000 Orange backers in attendance.

But the Panthers silenced them quite quickly, and as their lead increased in the second half there probably were a few echoes heard if any Orange fans yelled. And that wasn't enough for Pitt, as it went to Cincinnati and beat the Bearcats in a close one. That just fueled the Panthers' confidence for UConn.

"We have high expectations ourselves, as a team, but I really believe that the young guys are pushing the older guys to perform at a high level,'' Brown said. "And it continues through the whole team. Coach (Dixon) has played a big part in pushing us and making us the team that we are now.

"Coach has been saying since the beginning of the year, through my suspension and when Jermaine was hurt, that we were going to get better. We just needed to go one step at a time and keep working through it to get better and better. And by January and February, we should be playing our best basketball. So, hopefully, we'll all push harder and keep it up.''

And it's going to take everything Pitt has to pull off another road win.

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