Just a week ago, not many would have believed it could be redshirt freshman Travon Woodall, but that might be the case for Pittsburgh.
Woodall played his best game this season with 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists and a steal with no turnovers in 31 amazing minutes before fouling out. Woodall made 3 of 7 shots from the field, including 2 of 5 from 3-point range and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.
"I'm very, very proud of our guys,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It's one of those games where we didn't really play that great, but we played with a lot of heart and character. So, I'm very proud of (everybody). It was a very good win against a very good team. There were so many good plays out there.
"But what stood out to me was Travon. I've been saying that he's going to make us better, and he really played well. He really played within himself, and he was big in so many ways. So, we found a way. We battled, and I believe we can become very good. So, that's what we're working very hard to do.''
If Pitt is going to be a very good team, one that can contend for the Big East title and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, it's going to need Woodall. The longer he can player, the fresher Coach Dixon can keep senior Jermaine Dixon and sophomore Ashton Gibbs, the team's top offensive and defensive players.
Pitt needs Gibbs to score from the outside, to hit critical shots with the game on the line, and it needs Jermaine Dixon ready to play shut-down defense on opposing team's top scorers. Juniors Bradley Wanamaker and Gary McGhee and redshirt junior Gilbert Brown need to be more consistent as well, but Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon need to have their legs fresh at the end of games.
And after Jermaine Dixon fouled out with less than a minute remaining in regulation, Woodall came in for the long haul. He played the point with Gibbs moving to shooting guard, and the duo clicked immediately.
Woodall connected with Gibbs for a jump shot. He sank two huge free throws, despite WVU coach Bob Huggins' contention that he was shooting 50 percent from the line (actually, about 66 percent), hit a runner down the baseline and dished off to Gibbs for the eventual game-tying 3-pointer with time running out.
So, with six games remaining, Pitt is tied with WVU and Georgetown in the battle for top seeds and double-byes in the Big East Tournament. The Panthers will need a boost in this homestretch, and it could be Woodall.
"He's a creator for us and a playmaker,'' Gibbs said. "He really knocked down some big shots, and he also created some big shots. I really think he was the key to the game for us, but the best is yet to come for Travon.''
Despite his size, Woodall has become pretty tough in 1 1/2 seasons at Pitt, he doesn't get shoved around as much. And he even has been a big help on weak-side boards. Woodall pulled down seven against West Virginia Friday night, including one on the offensive end.
And that was with the much taller Devin Ebanks on him more times than not. Woodall is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, while Ebanks is 6-9, 205.
"Brad told me that if I get horsed again and get beat out for another rebound, he's going to do something to me that I wouldn't really like,'' Woodall said. "It was a tough matchup, but it's not the size of the player.
"It's the size of your heart. So, I gave it all I got, and I tried to give Ebanks as tough a matchup as I could. (And) I was able to help us get the win.''
And if the Panthers are going to be successful going forward this season, Woodall certainly will need to play a large role.
Woodall Steps Up
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