The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

February 1, 2013

Pitt seeks marquee win vs. No. 6 Syracuse

PITTSBURGH — Pitt is putting together a nice little bounce back season after last year’s stunning freefall to the bottom of the Big East.

The Panthers (17-5) have a 25-point road win over Georgetown to their credit.

They’ve beaten just about everybody they’re supposed to beat and been competitive in their five losses, four of them to teams who were ranked at the time.

Still, there’s a certain something missing from Pitt’s resume: An eye-catching and NCAA tournament resume-building victory. The Panthers can close that glaring loophole today against No. 6 Syracuse (18-2, 6-1).

Pitt is a remarkable 12-1 against Top 10 teams at the Petersen Events Center since it opened a decade ago. Moving that mark to 13-1 would undoubtedly catch the attention of the various computer indexes coach Jamie Dixon loves to monitor.

“We’ve got to win,” Dixon said. “That’s what we’re here to do and that’s what we need to do.”

It’s something that used to happen with great regularity for the Panthers, particularly at home. Yet Pitt is 0-2 against ranked opponents at The Pete this season, losing to Cincinnati and Marquette by a combined 16 points. For the Panthers to emerge from the middle of a very crowded – and largely very average – Big East, Dixon knows his team needs to bring some of the menace back to what has been one of the more difficult places to play in the country.

“First and foremost we’ve got to win our home games,” Dixon said. “You want to win every one of them, we haven’t. We lost two of them. We haven’t taken care of business on home court. We need to win a good game.”

The Panthers nearly did on Monday, playing tight all the way in a 64-61 road loss at No. 12 Louisville. Pitt stayed within striking distance despite making an abysmal 3 of 12 free throws and allowing the Cardinals to get loose for 10 dunks.

Not exactly the mix of efficient offense and suffocating defense that’s become the Panthers’ trademark under Dixon. The Panthers only stayed in the game thanks to 15 offensive rebounds that turned into 25 second-chance points.

Getting those kinds of numbers against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone will be difficult. The Panthers believe a little better execution getting the first shot means there won’t be a big of a need for so many second ones.

“You’ve just got to do the right thing,” forward Talib Zanna said. “If we do the right thing, it might come easy for us; just attack the zone and do what Dixon wants us to do (like) taking good shots at the right time.”

That wasn’t an issue early in the season for Zanna, who was dominant at times during the nonconference portion of the schedule. Opposing coaches raved about the 6-foot-9 junior’s development and his aggressiveness gave freshman center Steven Adams a little room to breathe and get comfortable.

All that success, however, came at a price. Zanna hasn’t been the same over the last six games. Since a 15-point effort in that 73-48 romp over the Hoyas on Jan. 8, Zanna is averaging just 5.8 points and 5.3 rebounds.

The soft-spoken Nigeria native says he’s been pressing a little bit in recent weeks.

Playing bigger, brawnier teams that have pushed him out of the lane hasn’t helped either.

“Yeah, it’s the Big East so the intensity is going to improve,” Zanna said. “I’ve just got to be patient and let the game come to me. I think sometimes I (try to rush) some shots, so I’ve just got to take my time and make plays and make my teammates better.”

Zanna grabbed 10 rebounds – including six offensive boards – against the Cardinals but shot just 2 of 9 – and didn’t get to the free throw line for the first time in nearly two months. Dixon believes the issue isn’t Zanna so much as the natural growing pains that come when a player is dealing with significant attention from the opposition for the first time in his career.

“He’s gotten the right shots, he’s taking good shots,” Dixon said. “We’ve talked about maybe rushing some of the shots, not gathering (the ball) and stepping through and being balanced. The effort is there and good things are going to happen when you’re doing what he’s doing.”

The Panthers will need Zanna to rediscover some of that shooting touch to help open up the zone. If he can be effective at the high post or ducking in down low, that could free up space for Pitt’s 3-point shooters.

Dixon knows a little something about beating the Orange. Pitt is 9-3 against Syracuse under Dixon’s watch. Getting that number to 10-3 would go a long way to giving the Panthers a boost and serving notice their rebound season might turn into something even more substantial.

“Just having a chance to go at a team that’s ranked and is No. 1 in the Big East, it gives you a lot to look for,” forward Lamar Patterson said. “We have to come out strong and get that ‘W.’ ”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

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