The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

March 18, 2013

Eighth-seeded Pitt in second round versus Wichita State

PITTSBURGH — The NCAA tournament held opening weekend games at Consol Energy Center last spring, a few hundred feet from Tray Woodall’s front door. The Pittsburgh guard, however, wanted none of it.

“We weren’t in the tournament so I didn’t go over there,” Woodall said. “I was frustrated.”

A year later, Woodall and the Panthers are back in the middle of the madness.

Following a lost season in which Pitt missed the tournament for the first time in over a decade, the eighth-seeded Panthers (24-8) will play ninth-seeded Wichita State (26-8) in the second round of the West Region in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

While senior center Dante Taylor admitted he was a little surprised to see a team that went 12-6 in the Big East drop all the way to an eighth seed, it certainly beats the alternative of not being in the tournament at all.

“I definitely think it’s something we’re going to use to our advantage,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. Yeah, we usually are higher, but we’ve got to prove to people we deserve to be higher.”

Pitt hasn’t been seeded so low in the NCAA since being a ninth-seed in 2005, when the Panthers were knocked off by Pacific in the opening round. Woodall cautioned Pitt could make another early exit if it takes the Shockers lightly.

“We said while we were watching the (selection) show, we basically could be playing Gonzaga, but if we do that we’re overlooking Wichita,” Woodall said. “We want to win. Me and Dante want to go out on top. We want to make a big run.”

It’s something the Panthers failed to do in their final go-round at the Big East tournament last week. Pitt qualified as the fourth seed and earned a double-bye, but never really got going in a 62-59 loss to Syracuse.

The Panthers shot just 37 percent from the floor and never led over the final 28 minutes. Taylor earned five stitches over his right eye while battling for a rebound and has missed two straight practices and his vision out of the eye remains blurry. He didn’t practice Sunday but insisted “I’ll be good” by Thursday.

Pitt will certainly need him against the Shockers, who average a robust 38.4 rebounds per game and will hardly be intimidated against a team that has looked vulnerable at times. The Panthers went just 5-7 against teams that made the NCAA field and have five players making their NCAA tournament debuts, including starting point guard James Robinson and center Steven Adams.

The 7-foot Adams, a New Zealand native, is still trying to get a handle on the NCAAs. It was never a priority while growing up half a world away.

“It never interested me at all,” Adams said with a laugh.

Things have changed in the last few weeks. He called the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament an eye opener and believes he’s better prepared to handle the pressure that comes this time of year.

“I’ve been progressing,” he said. “I’ve been quite happy about it as I’ve been gaining a bit more confidence here or there.”

Even if the bank of TVs turned to the selection show and the murmur that went up when Pitt’s name finally popped up caught him by surprise. Adams has no real sense of what the seeding means. He just knows one loss and the season is over.

“I don’t really care who we play, just so long as we win,” Adams said.

It’s an ethos preached by coach Jamie Dixon. While he anticipated a team that finished fourth in the Big East getting a friendlier seed, he pointed out “nobody except the ones are probably happy with their seeds.”

Besides, for once, Pitt enters the tournament under the radar. For a program still searching for its first Final Four appearance in the modern era, that’s not a bad thing. The Panthers were a No. 1 seed two years ago only to fall victim to eighth-seeded Butler in the second round.

How fitting if they could earn a chance to turn the tables provided they can beat Wichita State first. Pitt dominated the last meeting between the two schools in 2009, rolling to a 68-55 victory behind 19 points from Woodall.

It seems like a long time ago, but for veterans Woodall and Taylor the mission remains the same.

“We’ve just got to go in and handle business,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to get the W.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • SRU vs UPJ baseball0418 1 UPJ takes one, drops second

    John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
    Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0417 Pirates power past Brewers

    Andrew McCutchen hit his first homer of the season and drove in three runs, Pedro Alvarez had a three-run shot and pinch-hitter Josh Harrison broke a tie with a long ball in the seventh inning as the Pittsburgh Pirates handed the Milwaukee Brewers their first road loss, 11-2 on Thursday night.
    Harrison’s two-run drive down the left field line off Rob Wooten (0-1) was the second of his career as a pinch hitter.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0417 Jackets preparing for Game 2

    The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
    “It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Local Sports Briefs

    April 17, 2014

  • racin 0416 Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

    Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.
    The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Hawks already building toward next season

    Jason Spence used up his cell phone’s battery on a trip from Johnstown to his parents’ home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
    Once the Johnstown Tomahawks coach got to his destination, Spence had to get creative to secure cell service across the border.

    April 16, 2014

  • Pirates 0416 Dominant Cueto drops Pirates in matinee

    That playoff loss in Pittsburgh last year? Johnny Cueto never thought about it much. So getting a chance to shut out the Pirates in a rematch wasn’t any more special.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo