Pitt Looks to Finish Strong This Season

The Pitt men's basketball program has set a standard the past decade, but some believed the current Panthers' team would have difficulty maintaining that lofty level.

However, Pittsburgh is ranked 19th nationally after three straight victories, 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big East. The Panthers are on the verge of a ninth straight 20-win season with 10 victories in the Conference. And with two wins against top-five teams, at Syracuse and at home against West Virginia, Pitt should qualify for a ninth straight NCAA Tournament as well.

The Panthers can get their 20th win against Marquette (16-8, 7-5) Thursday night at 9 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

"Coach Dixon and Pitt has been having a winning tradition, so we had to come in this season and keep winning to keep the tradition going,'' Pitt sophomore forward Nasir Robinson said. "So, we can't let down at all.''

Redshirt freshman point guard Travon Woodall took it a step further.

"We definitely want to win our 20th game for Coach Dixon,'' Woodall said. "He's done a great job preparing us for this season, so we definitely want to get to 20 and beyond.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon downplayed the achievement just a bit, but he still recognized the significance.

"It's something that we're proud of and something that we definitely don't want to overlook,'' Dixon said. "But we're only focused on our next game and what we need to do to win that game. It does say a lot, and it means a lot. When you compare it to what other schools have done, it becomes even more evident.

"When you sit down and look at what's been done, (Pitt's record) must be the best in the Conference, that says a lot for consistency, especially in the conference that we're playing in. That shows even more how tough it is and what a great accomplishment that is, but we're focused solely on Marquette.''

Since the WVU game lasted three grueling hours and ended around midnight Saturday, the Panthers did not practice that day. But they still had several days to get back on the court to work on Marquette.

The Golden Eagles always seem to give Pitt a rough time, but with four major comeback victories -- two early in the season against Wofford and Duquesne and two more recently against Louisville and the Mountaineers -- are never out of a game until it's over.

"We just go out and not let up until the clock is (at) double-zeros,'' Robinson said. "It doesn't matter if we're down 10 or five with a couple minutes left or just seconds, we keep fighting until the end. So, we keep fighting hard the whole way, and in the last couple games we were able to come back to win.

"Really, all that comes from the way we practice. We just keep working hard from the start of practice until the end of it. And that definitely carries over to the games. Of course, we'd rather be in the lead, but if we have to fight back to get it done then that's what we're definitely going to do.''

Woodall noted that the Panthers play the same way that they practice, and that's why they've been able to be so successful.

"I don't know that we set the tone with those earlier games, but I know that we're always looking to get better in practice and play better in the next game than we did in the last one,'' Woodall said. "And we hope to build on what we've done the past couple games (three straight wins).

"In the games that we did come back to win, we didn't play well early and had to fight real hard to come back. So, our execution wasn't good, but we were able to rally. This comes from our senior leadership with Jermaine Dixon. He's a warrior, and he's installed that warrior attitude into all of us.

"Obviously, in the beginning of the season, when everybody was counting us out, that kind of fueled everybody,'' Woodall added. "So, that has carried over throughout the season. And when we're in the games, we just want to keep fighting all the way until the clock says 0.0.''

Woodall also praised Dixon and the Pitt coaching staff.

"They don't make too big of an adjustment, but they do a great job motivating us on the floor to keep playing hard and keep working through it,'' Woodall said. "Coach Dixon always believes in us and keeps telling us we can win the game no matter how much we get down.

"Regardless of how we started and how things are looking at that point, he always tells us we're going to win. And that's why we're able to come back. He instills that attitude in us, and we have faith that we can win no matter what. That's how we're able to come back.''

Coach Dixon was more inclined to credit the players.

"These guys are bright, and they're able to make changes,'' Dixon said. "They're open to change in a lot of ways, so that ability to adapt is there with these guys. Also, recognizing things and improvement during a game is important, too. I guess that's all part of being adaptable.

"If we see something in a game that's new, we might now play well early on, but we adjust and get better as the game goes along. Like against Syracuse, we didn't attack their zone well early, but we played better in the second half. (And) against West Virginia, we got better blockouts and rebounded better.''

For the coaches' sanity, as well as the stress level for everyone who follows Pitt, building up a big lead wouldn't hurt once in a while, either.

Panther More Top Stories